|A HISTORY OF PADMASAMBHAVA BUDDHIST CENTER
AT PALM BEACH DHARMA CENTER
It is Saturday morning and the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center is holding weekly open house. Music is playing softly in the bookstore, inviting people to browse. The lamps are lit in the library where texts on ancient and contemporary Buddhism are available. Glancing down the hall, French doors open to a traditional Nyingma shrine, in the oldest lineage in Tibetan Buddhism. It is a refuge vibrant with energy and beauty. All are welcome here.
Students are delighted at their good fortune to have a Dharma center in Lake Worth. And looking back, the history of how our little jewel of a center came into being is quite a story. As all good stories do, it contains elements of suspense, adventure, triumph, and tragedy.
Many of you already know that it is now more than five decades since the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese. Thousands of people sought refuge in India along with the Dalai Lama, whose seat as Head of State is now in Dharamsala. Among those who thought it wise to leave was an amazing and formidable family from Kham, the eastern region of Tibet. They were led from the village of Dashul under the watchful eyes of their mother and father, both lifelong and devoted practitioners. The year was 1959. Gathering their four children (two sisters and two brothers), they left before dawn’s first light in the middle of winter. Imagine their father planning and packing the family yak. A small, compact man, his body was powerful and his mind clear and quick. It was through his prophecy that they chose to leave the only life that their families had known for centuries. They took what provisions they could manage as well as ancient, precious Dharma items.
Their journey was infused with an uncertainty that we can only imagine: a small band traveling by night and hiding by day. Hunger and biting cold pursued them for months, especially in the mountain passes. Many people are not aware that the Tibetans had to flee through some of the highest mountains in the world. The trip took an unexpected year and a half, and hardships exacted their inexorable toll. Shortly after arriving in India, their youngest sister died quite suddenly along the path. And within the first year in a refuge camp located in Eastern India, their mother and older sister also passed away.
Now they were two young men with their widowed father and very much in a new world. Initially they worked on road crews. . . . this was close to two years. Managing as best they could from day to day, their faith in the Dharma and their profound courage carried them. Eventually Khenchen Palden settled at Sanskrit University in Varanasi, teaching Tibetan studies. He also became the Department Head of Nyingma Buddhism as well as a University administrator with numerous responsibilities. This was circa 1967. Khenpo Tsewang continued his studies and was enthroned as a Nyingma Abbot by H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche. In 1978 he became the Resident Abbot of the Wishfulfilling Jewel Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.
With his sons more settled, Lama Chimed Namgyal chose to become a monk and enter retreat. As a widower, he yearned to dedicate his life to practice. He maintained his retreat for more than thirty years until his death in March of 2001. Who could have imagined that he would spend the last twelve years of his lionlike retreat in West Palm Beach?
Keeping the seeds of the Dharma – Compassion and Skillful Means – alive and well, the Khenpo Rinpoches continued their endeavors. In 1980 they were invited to California by Dr. Rhoda LeCoq to give their premier teaching in America on Dzogchen, the Great Perfection Teachings. Soon thereafter, H. H. Dudjom Rinpoche, the supreme leader of the Nyingma Lineage, asked them to oversee his center in New York City, Yeshe Nyingpo.
After the passing of His Holiness, one of the last of the ancient masters to escape Tibet, and upon completion of their commitment to Him, the Khenpos began to establish the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center.
In 1983 they were invited to Palm Beach County by four students. Gathering an eager group at one student’s home, the first teaching they gave in Florida was on Bodhichitta: Awakened Heart. The seeds of Dharma which they had carried on their courageous journey from the Land of Snows were now planted upon our tropical shores. This mystical planting can only be accomplished by master horticulturalists of the heart, precious human beings who have actually become the embodiment of the teachings.
To have such teachers appear in one’s life even once is considered a great blessing. And here was this gathering of followers at the beginning of a path that would bring the Khenpo Rinpoches back to Florida many times up until this very day. Those individuals whose practice has been personally guided by the Khenpos are grateful that they choose to remain openly accessible as spiritual guides to their students.
We began our center in modest venues. . . private homes, local churches and school gymnasiums. And of course our knowledge of how to care for our new teachers and follow Dharma ritual was also modest and tentative. However, the Khenpos held their spacious view. They were hardy pioneers after all, and their warmth and humor nurtured us into a viable Sangha, a spiritual community.
For two years we rented space in a church nursery. Each Tuesday evening we carried our Buddha in a box up and down the Turnpike. Every week we moved toys and cribs aside and adorned our makeshift shrine with flowers, carefully placing the Buddha upon his royal seat. Learning the practice together, we began to discover the value of Sangha and why the Buddha titled it as one of the Three Jewels.
In the mid-eighties we were able to purchase a home in West Palm Beach. The Khenpos chose to call it Mandarava House, after an accomplished Yogini and teacher with Padmasambhava. We removed Buddha from his box and he took his seat upon the shrine at Mandarava House, where he remains to this very day as activities in the Dharma continue to grow and change around him. We maintained Heart Sutra practice at Mandarava House for many years and expanded into other evenings of practice as well. The Khenpos continued to come several times a year to transmit the teachings of this unbroken lineage. The Lamp of Dharma was clearly lit in our community. Little did we know how brightly it would glow with the arrival of their father, Lama Chimed, who came to Mandarava House from Darjeeling in February of 1990.
The local Sangha was deeply honored to have this powerhouse of a man in retreat for twelve years. Who would not be honored to meet an old Buddha – a man or woman fully awake! In this instance, the very Buddha who had passed the seeds of Dharma on to his sons, leading them on the initial journey that eventually brought them to us.
Under their guidance our roots deepened as our branches grew. The Khenpo Rinpoches have now established many centers in the U.S. and abroad. In November of 1999 we moved into our present home, Padmasambhava Buddhist Center at Palm Beach Dharma Center. A handful of devoted practitioners brought this vision to fruition through the blessings of the Lineage Holders, and today the teachings of the Buddha are readily available to the community! It also brought to a bountiful harvest the vision of Padmasambhava, who said: “When the iron bird flies, the Dharma will go West to the land of the red man.” And so it has – even to West Palm Beach!
Please feel free to join us in our unfolding history. You are welcome to attend any of the events listed in our calendar and to share in the essential teachings of the Buddha. “The way is not in the sky, the way is in the heart.”