On August 15, 2014, the annual assembly of Merigar West members was held in the presence of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu at the Gonpa at Merigar West. At the beginning of the meeting, Giovanna Natalini presented the blue gakyil report to let the Master and members know of the many different activities that had taken place over the gakyil’s term of office – September 2013 up to the present.
At this type of assembly it is usual and necessary to present the work that has been done during the year and ideas for the year to come. So we would like to take this opportunity to share the guidelines that underlie all of this and that too often remain between the lines.
In order to exist in the ordinary world our Dzogchen Community has to have the legal form of a cultural association. This basically means that we are inspired by the principles of the Teaching and try to implement them in the time and circumstances in which we find ourselves.
For this reason, from a legal standpoint we have a statute that is typical of a cultural non-profit organization, because although it is not essential at the level of the Teaching, it is at the relative level of our existence in the world.
Our Community started many years ago as a small association, has grown over the years involving many people across Europe, and has an important financial situation. For this reason it was necessary to make changes to the statute and to the financial management that would be more appropriate to the current situation of the association that was no longer small.
In December 2013, as a Community, we made a notary deed to change the status of Merigar and thus make possible a bond with the International Dzogchen Community and the Lings in Western Europe, a bond that was not only optimal but also legal and fiscal.
We also changed the manner of keeping accounts, making them transparent according to the guidelines of the European community. This means that all members can “check” how money is spent and also makes it possible to participate in projects to get funds at regional, national and European levels since for this type of activity it is essential to be able to present all financial statements made according to standardized criteria.
With this work we were able to apply for legal recognition to the prefecture of Grosseto. Unfortunately the slowness of the Italian bureaucracy is famous and after seven months we are still waiting for the outcome of this process. Informally we know that we have passed all the steps and hope shortly to be able to give the news in an official manner.
An important principle that we want to mention is collaboration. As Merigar West we have made ourselves available to assist in the birth and development of the IDC, or the gakyil that coordinates and helps collaboration among the gars around the world.
We are trying to improve collaboration with the Lings all over Europe; this is the initial work that has just begun for which we think that all of Merigar’s future gakyils and those of the Lings must work even harder. Merigar West’s strength is in having so many Lings (about 20) and the strength of the Lings is being part of Merigar West. Each Ling can bring experience and wealth, be active in its own territory, while the Gar can coordinate and take care of the “services” that are common to all the Lings and all the members of the area.
Another area of collaboration is around the area of Merigar – the village of Arcidosso. Regarding the “outside” world, since the year of Merigar’s thirtieth anniversary relationships have changed and there is no longer an atmosphere of mutual distrust. We know and respect each other. Now, for example, it has become a tradition to offer an annual show in the town square. This year was the result of collaboration with one of the most important local voluntary associations to collect funds to improve the ambulance service, a purpose that is beneficial for all the people of the area.
Together with the Arcidosso municipality and the SSI we are working to build a Tibetan Museum in the Aldobrandescan Castle. Work has begun and we hope that it can proceed quickly and we will be able to inaugurate it in a matter of 1-2 years.
Another important principle is secularism. We have indicated this by changing the decor of the Gonpa and the Mandala Hall. Over the years we had accumulated many elements that marked these places as belonging to a single tradition. Naturally we pay homage to the Buddhist world but it is important that it is symbolically evident that these are places where anyone can feel at ease.
In the Gonpa many statues and symbolic objects were removed that will be more appropriately displayed in the future Tibetan Museum in Arcidosso.
In the Mandala Hall we have displayed a photographic exhibition that bears witness to the life of the Community around the world. We made our choices from the material we had available and invite everyone to send other photographic material and thus enrich the exhibition.
Another important principle is generosity, or offering, not to comply with a rule that is external to the individual, but in an act that arises from ourselves for the good of others.
The 2014 retreats held by our Master at Merigar West no longer required participants to pay a fee in order to participate, but were subsidized by the offerings of some practitioners who, through their generosity, covered all related costs thus making it possible for all those who participated to have free admission.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Finally, a principle that is important to always follow is not only to make choices considering the current situation, but looking to the future.
In particular, as the Merigar gakyil, we must try to create the possibility of a livelihood in the future of Merigar. For this we ask for projects in order to find a way to sustain the whole place, and not rely on revenue coming directly from the Teaching.
At the moment we have received a project to make better use of the retreat cabins and another to hold courses not related to the Teaching. We invite everyone to also propose other types of projects, for example using our land from the agricultural point of view, or linking up to university projects, etc.
In future programming we will try to make Merigar an increasingly important center for the community, where our members can come to deepen their practice with courses and retreats in which they can share experiences.
We propose to organize important events that may attract the interest of many people on specific topics that are important to us, for example, Yantra Yoga and its relationship with other schools, or Tibetan medicine.
APPROACHING THE PUBLIC
In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that Merigar is an attractive place to visit and for first approaches to the Teaching, for which reason we have created several events that we have called “Welcome to Merigar” (guided tours by experienced practitioners with the purpose of explaining about the places and activities of the Community).
We have also organized several weekends of “Meditation & Yoga” dedicated to people who are new to the community in order to give them some theoretical background and a little experience of what meditation is and what Yoga is.
In order to get suitable video material to present Merigar on different occasions we held a competition to make a video film that tells the story of our community. 13 projects participated and a committee of five “technicians” chose the winner. Gabriella Moles’s project was chosen and her crew was seen at Merigar West filming during the last retreat.
We would also like to mention the care that Merigar is taking regarding the geothermal energy project that ENEL is developing in the area bordering the Merigar land. It is a controversial project and is the source of a great deal of debate. As Merigar we have done what is possible at the legal level in opposition to the TAR (regional administrative court) and we are considering whether to oppose it even at the level of the State Council.
In order to monitor emissions from the geothermal power plant, we got the Tuscany Region to make ENEL cover the costs of a unit, placed on the land of Merigar and managed by ARPAT (Regional Agency for Environmental Protection in Tuscany), that detects potentially polluting data. The data collected will be critical in the unfortunate event of a possible lawsuit for damages.
As Merigar we are studying the opportunity and the possibility to check certain pollutants, which, even if they have less value in terms of a possible cause, could be an important element of pressure on the various regulatory bodies.