India, Where the Magic Still Lives
Returning Buddhism to its historic place
Because there’s so much to report, we’re presenting this New Year’s issue of the KF Focus on India in two parts. In part one, we bring India to you by reporting on the two major dharma centers in India that KF supports – Deer Park Institute and Buddha Pāda. In part two, coming soon, we share a brief report on the Indian Community Health Work project and an update on the Lighting the Mahabodhi project, followed by the life-changing stories told by two Indian sangha members from Deer Park. Finally, there’s news about a short film shot at Deer Park in 2021.
Above: Deer Park main temple under a magical double rainbow.
Deer Park Institute
The Spirit of Nalanda Continues
Fifteen years have passed since Rinpoche inaugurated Deer Park Institute in Bir, India, in the foothills of the Himalayas. In that time, Deer Park has developed and matured into a full-function institute, while maintaining its core vision to re-create the spirit of Nalanda. At this great university of ancient India, all traditions of Buddhism were studied and practiced, as well as other schools of classical Indian philosophy, arts, and sciences.
Deer Park began as a school for lay people, and especially as a space for the people of India to study and explore Buddhism and other Indian wisdom traditions in their country of origin. Deer Park’s programs (courses in philosophy, meditation, art and culture, classical languages, yoga, and engaged Buddhism) encourage the disciplines of listening, contemplating, and meditating, leading to genuine understanding and realization. In recent years, while maintaining its roots in the rich soil of the classical traditions, Deer Park also seeks to bring the freshness of contemporary expression into its academic and contemplative programs through the use of film and other art forms.
Rinpoche giving a teaching on Manjushri at Deer Park, July 2020.
In 2020, Deer Park had to close temporarily due to the pandemic. But in July, Rinpoche cheered everyone up by giving a teaching on Manjushri at the global recitation of Manjushri Nama Samgiti, in celebration of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s 200th birthday anniversary. The event was held at the beautiful Deer Park outdoor auditorium, with a few goats and a donkey as the only on-site audience. What a delightful scene! Watch the video of the event here.
Deer Park opened again with caution in September of 2020, when the Covid situation in Bir eased up. From then until October of 2021, Deer Park offered 40 programs of its own and welcomed more than 800 participants to its serene and beautiful campus. As usual, the programs covered a full spectrum, ranging from dance, yoga, writing, film making, acting, and parenting to art therapy and mental resilience. All of those programs were in addition to Deer Park’s core program on the study of Buddhist texts and meditation practice. The number of participants, especially international ones, dropped hugely due to travel restrictions and lockdown; however, there were deeper engagements locally and domestically, with almost all of the participants being Indians from all across the country.
Deer Park program posters.
To end this brief update, we offer this quotation from the late Raji Ramanan, writer and Deer Park’s long-standing faculty member. Here is her eloquent description of Deer Park on its opening in 2006. “The spirit of Nalanda is pulsating again under the loving kindness of this teacher, whose vision is to offer a space where dialogue would be possible, where debates would be held with love and compassion, and where intellect and heart would go together, where this unique tradition would be accessible without any trappings under the able professorship of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.”
Read Raji’s full tribute here.
Watch the 2021 short Deer Park promo film.
In 2014, when asked what he would like to see in India, Rinpoche replied, “That India protects its Buddhist heritage, and that the study and practice of Buddhism flourishes genuinely in India.”
Connecting the Modern with the Traditional
“In this dark age, illumination is indispensable. Especially self-illumination – the innate illumination that we all possess and that needs no outer source – is of utmost importance, now more than ever. And who else could so immaculately reveal, expound, explain, and guide us to this treasure but the three Great Illuminators themselves – Drimé Özer Longchen Rabjam, Khyentse Özer (Jigme Lingpa), and Trengpo Sherab Özer.
We at Buddha Pāda are fortunate and proud to be the seat of these great Özers. To this day, India remains a source of the world’s most profound wisdom, light, and illumination. Indeed, just what we today call West Bengal has alone produced some of the greatest Buddhist masters ever to walk this earth. We in the 21st century cannot afford to lose our connection to this extraordinary tradition and spirit of past times.”
— Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Overlooking the Teesta river valley from Buddha Pāda
Buddha Pāda, the new collaborative center-space of Siddhartha’s Intent India, located in Kalimpong (West Bengal), was inaugurated in March 2020. The center took advantage of the time while India was in a country-wide lockdown to prepare itself and began running programs on a regular basis in February of 2021.
The Buddha Pāda administrative team is headed by Tulku Ngawang Tenzin, assisted by Suruchi Choksi, Reena Bauddha, Prashant Varma, and Diwan Negi. Working closely with SI India and Deer Park, in the past 10 months the center has run 15 programs, with a total of 221 participants. These diverse programs encompassed dance, arts, acting, writing, yoga, local history, and Buddhist meditation study and retreat.
Tulku Ngawang trained from a young age under his guru Kyabjé Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, and later studied at Dzongsar Institute in Bir. He shared his experience at Buddha Pāda over the past year.
In November 2021, Tulku Ngawang led a course on “Introduction to Buddhism”, with a guided meditation.
“I have a small monastery in Gangtok, Sikkim, which is about 3 hour’s drive from Kalimpong. Since Khyentse Rinpoche invited me to join Buddha Pāda last March, I spend my time half here and half in my monastery. My experience here is beautiful. I have been living my life previously mostly in a monastic environment, so this is all new to me. I get to meet a lot of new people who are interested in Buddhadharma. I listen to their stories and hear about their lives. So that is something very interesting for me. It’s like a new insight. The biggest challenge for me is social skills. Monastic people are usually shy and introvert and little difficult to open up. Now I am getting used to it. Slowly.”
Tulku Ngawang not only manages the center, he also leads courses in Buddhism and meditation. In addition to Buddha Pāda and his monastery, he also steers the 2021 Bhumisparsha Team’s initiative to plant 84000 trees on this earth. And he was featured in Rinpoche’s latest film, Looking for A Lady with Fangs and A Moustache.
On September 16 2021, a Guru Rinpoche day, Tulku Ngawang and the Buddha Pāda team planted 68 trees around the center compound.
In addition to Tibetan and English, Tulku speaks fluent Nepali, which enables him to communicate freely with the locals, most of whom speak these three languages. Historically, Kalimpong locals are made up of many ethnic groups of the Himalayas, including Tibetan, Nepali, and Bhutanese. Buddha Pāda’s vision is to revive the roots of Buddhadharma in this region, which sits on the ancient trade route between India and China, where the Buddhadharma once flourished. As a fairly new addition to West Bengal, Kalimpong naturally connects with Bengali culture, which is known for the richness of its arts and literature.
A music project, Bodhi Bhajan Project in Nepali, exemplifies Buddha Pāda’s program. Inspired by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s wish that The Treasury of Blessings, composed by Mipham Rinpoche, be made available in vernacular Bhajan style, the Bodhi Bhajan Project in Nepali started in early 2020. The project, under the guidance of Tulku Ngawang and Dr. Karma Lhamo, offers sadhanas for Nepali-speaking Buddhist practitioners. The first bhajan, “Maha Muni,” was composed by Deoashish Mothey and mixed by Sumit Mukhia, both Kalimpong local talents. The lyrics were put together by Dipak Kumar Rai, drawing inspiration from The Treasury of Blessings.
Listen to “Maha Muni” here.
Sumit (left) and Deoashish (right) working on the music project at Buddha Pāda’s temporary DIY home studio.
Buddha Pāda is new to this region, where there are many traditional Buddhist gompas (monasteries) of the Sakya, Nyingma, Kagyu, and Gelug traditions. But it has generated a lot of interest among the locals, many of whom are youngsters, who come to explore this space. According to Prashant, director of SI India projects, “Young people here are very artistic, very creative. There’s lots of independent music and literature. Locals sometime refer to Buddha Pāda as the ‘Japanese Gompa’ because of its unique architecture, modern design, and Japanese connection through its founder Nyichang Khentrül Rinpoche. Khyentse Rinpoche always thinks that’s a good perception, something ‘fresh,’ he says. And unlike Deer Park and its nowadays busy touristy Bir setting, Buddha Pāda carries this Zen vibe which is quieter and more contemplative.”
H.H. Sakya Trizin Ratna Vajra Rinpoche visited Buddha Pāda recently.
“In the Himalayan region where Buddha Pāda is located, the Sherpas, Tamang, Gurkhas, Lepchas, Tibetans, Bhutanese, Sikkimese, and more have for centuries been the faithful custodians of this wisdom tradition. The colonial era came dangerously close to losing that connection. But the basic call of that precious heritage in the minds and hearts of Himalayan peoples has never really diminished. Indeed, it is so gratifying to see more and more of our youth searching for those roots and wellsprings of their being.
And so, it is at this moment in history that Buddha Pāda aspires to provide the facilities and space to explore and celebrate this ancient heritage that is more relevant to our modern times than ever before. Inseparable from that wisdom tradition, Buddha Pāda will also be a space where 21st-century citizens can connect with the wider world through music, art, poetry, drama, and more. And through all it does, Buddha Pāda will enable all who step through its doors to explore, discover, and invest in the innate goodness of human beings revealed to us by Gautama the Buddha.”
— Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Khyentse Foundation wishes you all a very happy new year.
Let’s aspire to gather again in India to celebrate the Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha Shakyamuni.
In Other News
- Watch Bhumisparsha’s 2022 Virtual New Year Concert and Rinpoche’s new year message. Let’s welcome the new year by remembering and honoring the Buddha and touching the earth together.
- Applications for KF Buddhist Studies Scholarships, Individual Practice Grants, and Work as Practice Scholarships are open until January 15, 2022.
- Read Rinpoche’s new essay, An Aspiring Tantrika’s Tale.
- Watch Rinpoche’s recent message on the Peace Vase Project.
- Read stories about Buddha’s ten births: Ten Jātakas at Wat Ban Khong, Ratchaburi, by Peter Skilling and Santi Pakdeekham.
- Join the online practices offered by KF and SI India:
– Tri Ratna Anusmrit Sadhana (Remembering the Three Jewels).
– Biweekly Tara practice where a live Green Tara Charya dance is offered in addition to the sadhana practice.