Virupa Retreat Centre Ten Year Anniversary

Tibetan dancing, movies, book blessings, and lots of lovely people - what a wonderful day! It was great to see many of our Dharma brothers and sisters attend Virupa Retreat Centre's 10th Anniversary Celebrations, held on the 14th of October 2012. Members and friends from near and far came to rejoice in the Dharma activities that Virupa has promoted since its inception in 2002.

The day kicked off with some dancing that was organized by Committee member Lodhen Ngui, with a performance of the ‘Tashi Shopa', a traditional Tibetan welcoming dance. Virupa resident Greg O'Rourke rather reluctantly got asked to be Lodhen's sidekick for the dance but was relieved that the costume disguised his identity. Lodhen was in fine form, doing what Rinpoche amusingly called a ‘Tibetan Rap' where he formally welcomed guests in between dance numbers (in English but with the Tibetan melody), and got many chuckles from members from the Tibetan community present.

We then went inside the gompa for the formal welcoming by Lidija Trajkoska, the Society's Vice President, as well as by His Holiness the Dalai Lama's representative Sonam Dagpo to give the Tibetan Community's good wishes for the day. Ven. Jamyang gave a talk on his many moving and often humerous experiences as a resident and visitor to the Centre since it began, then Rinpoche gave an address in which he reflected on all the good will and help many people have contributed over the years to the running of Virupa. This, Rinpoche stated, was the cause of how Virupa originally came to be and it was only through selfless generosity of many volunteers that has enabled Virupa to continue since.

Pictures say a thousand words, so it was fitting that Rinpoche then introduced a slideshow movie presentation that told the story of the major events that happened at Virupa over the last 10 years, such as His Eminence's visit in 2006, its contribution to the first ordination of Tibetan Buddhist Nuns (a world first by the way!) as well as the many other revered teachers that have visited Virupa, such as His Holiness Sakya Trizin, Her Eminence Jetsun Kushok Rinpoche, Luding Khen Rinpoche, and His Eminence Gyana Vajra Rinpoche. It is possible to now consider Virupa a pilgrimage site given the great teachers that have visited and who have given teachings within the retreat centre's walls. You can see the slideshow video in full here.

Guests were then invited to participate in a ceremony to bless the Society's recent acquisition of the Kagyur, which is the complete collection of the Buddha's teachings, which has been housed at Virupa. These texts will be a wonderful resource for students of our centres, both for study and translation. Each guest took a volume of the collection and was led by Rinpoche for a circumambulation with the books around the gompa. They were then taken inside the main house where the books were blessed in the traditional Tibetan method of reading the several pages out loud from each volume in Tibetan.

Spirits were soaring during the prayer flag raising ceremony that was held afterwards, everyone fittingly singing the ‘Prayer for the Happiness of All That Lives' before shouting ‘Ki Ki So So Lha Gyal Lo!' (Victory to the Gods!) and flinging flour in the air as per the traditional Tibetan custom. Afternoon tea and the cutting Virupa's cake concluded a great day of festivities. Eric Leo put together a video of the event that you can view here.

It was great to have such a positive day at Virupa Retreat Centre and we look forward to many more years of Dharma activities! Our heartfelt thanks goes to everyone that has supported the centre on its journey so far. Just as Mahasiddha Virupa kept the sun radiating in the sky, likewise may Virupa Retreat Centre keep the holy Dharma radiating and giving light to all those who are in darkness for many years to come!


Article Published in Canberra Chronicle

Canberra Chronicle Story 

Speech by Venerable Jamyang

Good afternoon everyone, and welcome. I was first introduced to this community when I was 19, listening to our then-resident monk Lama Rigzin, teaching at our centre in Narrabundah in early-2001. One day, this young Tibetan monk showed me a brochure of an old Tibetan monk, who would be visiting Canberra in a few months. This led me to meet HE Chogye Trichen Rinpoche. It was during this ‘encounter' that I also met his ‘heart-son', our beloved spiritual director and Canberra resident, Lama Choedak.

This lineage of the mad saint Virupa, who was a ‘Mahasiddha' or great adept from medieval India, was not to be found by trekking up a winding path to a yogi's cave in the Himalayas, but has been found right here, on our doorstep so to speak, "Down under". It was established by many dedicated people - under the guidance of our Rinpoche, Lama Choedak. Rinpoche has already humbly put in the ‘hard yards' - on our behalf and to our advantage - of bridging the gap between two worlds, as a great lotsawa. Not just between East and West, but between ancient and modern; not just between Tibetan-speaking and English-speaking, but between a wisdom-oriented culture and an individualistic culture that believes in ‘quick fixes'.

In the days before ‘Virupa Retreat Centre' (or VRC), it took a much keener eye to see the Society's workings on the community level, without such a bastion like this to make it so evident. Early on I remember attending a few working bees here. The first October ‘calm-abiding' or shamatha group-retreat I attended - in 2002 - was to be the final October retreat to not be held on our own premises. Only a year later, in 2003, we (as the committee and residents) decided at the very last moment to cancel the motel we had booked for the event, and host the retreat - with about 70 practitioners - here in this Gompa (as well as on the porch outside). I can remember myself and Ani Kunsang figuring out, in preparation for the event, how many people might fit in this Gompa. She sat cross-legged at the very back, then I sat in front of her, then she got up and sat in front of me, ... and so forth. Once that was done, she sat at the very right, then I sat to her left, she got up to sit on my left, ... and so forth. (I hope that made sense to you.)

With all these new wooden bunk-beds in our dormitories, people camping in tents, port-a-loo's and blissed-out people wandering about, I remember feeling as though I was at a music festival, except that it felt good in the beginning, middle and end. At the 2003 retreat, one interstate visitor, for some reason, hadn't been notified of the last-minute venue change - he arrived at what was the cancelled venue - a motel in Watson (a suburb of Canberra) - bewildered to see the place completely devoid of people, and the motel staff with no idea of any Buddhist retreat there. After a few phone-calls, I was assigned to drive out from VRC to the motel in Watson to collect him, and we both came back here. Although we arrived quite late, by probably about an hour, our Rinpoche had waited calmly in the office until we arrived, while everyone else - about 70 people - was waiting calmly in the Gompa. This was to be the first of only three October shamatha retreats at Virupa, before we ‘up-graded' again to our facilities at SIBA in 2006.

I also remember the next 2004 October group-retreat being so jam-packed accommodation-wise, that myself and my fellow newly-ordained monk, Tharchin, both slept on mattresses in the tree-shed behind this Gompa. This is probably as close as it gets to seeing a monk sleep under a tree these days.

Within a year of its ‘opening', I myself had moved into Virupa as a resident. In those days Ani Kunsang (Clare) was a very prominent figure, and soon after I moved in, as the Society, we hosted a large ‘thanks-giving' breakfast - for about 200 people from the Vietnamese Buddhist community - who arrived by coach. This was to celebrate what was a historic event - the first Tibetan master to help initiate and facilitate a Bhikshuni (full nun) ordination. This included my friends Ani Choekyi, who turns 95 later this month, and Ani Nangtong (Andrea), who both took novice vows. Nangtong was later to be a very influential figure running the place. Our friends Lodhen and Penny also got married here around this time.

I was to wait only another half-year for my novice ordination, when Luding Khenchen visited Australia. At Virupa he officiated a special land-taming Fire Puja. He was the second Sakyapa lineage holder to visit here, after HH Sakya Trizin in 2003. Chogye Trichen then visited here in late-2006, after opening SIBA - only months before departing into his maha-samadhi. His Holiness' older sister - Jetsun-ma Chimey Luding - also visited in late-‘07 to give Vajrayogini teachings and blessings. Beyond that, we have had many Tibetans - lamas, khenpos, monks, nuns and lay-people - visit and stay to share not only their rich culture with us, but also their friendship, in this unique atmosphere of cultural exchange and understanding. As Lord Buddha said, "Friendship is the whole of the spiritual life".

I suppose that, on the inner-most, personal level, I feel that although Virupa doesn't belong to anyone in particular, we all belong to Virupa, or at least a part of us does - and this belonging comes in the form of memories that are encouraging, constructive and happy. For me, it's the little things I've been involved in over the years - for example, whenever I visit these days, I see the om mani padme hum I painted on the rock halfway up the drive-way. Some of us have been here to help build huts and install new bathrooms; some have been here to help cook during group-retreats; others have been here to engage in solitary retreats themselves. So many people have come and gone - some have stayed longer than others - and we have all learnt and grown in our own personal way.

This is a place not just for the many ‘lovers of Dharma' - who have visited from all around Australia and even the world - but also for a smaller number of us, such as myself, who are - or have been - residents of the place. These are people who have found the necessity, and the opportunity - at one point or another in their life, to be a resident in a sanctuary like this - which provides a conducive environment with supportive house-mates, to learn the craft of Dharma, as well as maintain the activities of our community on an administrative level.

The spirit of this place remains, and will perhaps begin to evolve, as a stable and reliable foundation for Buddha's lineage to spread in Australia. Not so much a ‘shedra' (academic institution), but more as a ‘drup-khang' (a centre for yogic sadhana practice) - the place where experiential Dharma-knowledge can truly blossom. As we celebrate our first decade today, we could still be considered a young community, especially if we compare ourselves to native Tibetan communities, which have lasted solidly for so many generations. In any case, I'm sure that the next ten years will watch further evolution and innovation with such a close-knit network that we have of serious and sincere Dharma practitioners. A seed has surely been sown, very caringly and carefully.

So, to conclude, I hope these reflections of mine might help everyone here remember your own special connection to this sacred place, which I'm sure we all have; and to remember that these connections are themselves connections to the Buddha and all the enlightened ones. Thankyou!

Quote of the Day

“Our dual appearances do not bind us to suffering but it is the conceptualisation that binds us”
Khenpo Jamyang Tenzin