Standing on Our Own Feet – An Interview with Thubten Rabgyi and Urara Taoka

This is an interview done on March 12, 2020 at Dzamling Gar with Gekö Thubten Rabgyi and the Gakyil Director and Yellow Gakyil, Urara Taoka, about the latest challenges faced by Dzamling Gar and a look towards the future.

Rainbow over Dzamling Gar by Elena Kalistova

The Mirror: Since Dzamling Gar is the Global Gar there is international concern, and there have been some strong winds (literally) passing through in the last while, between the very strong sandstorm called Calima and the Corona Virus, The Mirror wanted to check in with the Rabgyi, the gekö, and Urara, the current Dzamling Gar Gakyil President, about how the Gar is weathering the various challenges of late and plans for the future. So let’s start with the situation of the Calima in terms of damage and recovery.

Urara Taoka: I think Rabgyi has been cleaning so much there is nothing left to clean.

Thubten Rabgyi: The very heavy storm was one night and one day, but it lasted for some days altogether. The old Gönpa, the white tent, was damaged, some trees and balconies, and the roofs of the balconies, as well as some fences. The Gönpa was ok but it got very dusty. The storm started on the night of February 23, Losar eve, and got really bad on Losar, the 24th. We had the famous guthuk soup and that night after we went home the storm really got bad and the next day we were not able to have our Tibetan Losar Celebration; we had prepared many things, dancing, games, the cafeteria bought something to make lunch, we made khapse, and also we were going to make a nice breakfast but we could not do any of it because of the storm. Now the corona virus, so we were and are a little restricted.

Strong winds

M: Are we still repairing and cleaning from the storm?

TR: Yes our maintenance team and the gardeners are still working. There is still cleaning to do. We cleaned everything in the tent but we cannot repair it anymore so maybe we will have to sell it. Now it is almost three weeks from the storm, we haven’t finished all the repairs but more or less the cleaning is finished. The swimming pool needed more than one week to clean.

M: So we are slowly recovering from the sandstorm and now we have entered another kind of a storm with the virus. The Gakyil is taking appropriate actions according to advice from the government health officials such as social distancing and asking people to stay quiet in their homes and people who have just arrived by plane should stay quarantined for fourteen days before entering the Gar. Also Dzamling Gar is collaborating with Merigar West in webcasting practices. Now we are webcasting morning Yantra Yoga, the Dance of the 12 A’s in the afternoon, a course with Elio Guarisco, the Medium Thun at 5pm alternating with Merigar West, soon Fabio will teach some Yantra Yoga and Breathing, and Khaita singing. So maybe we are busier than before. In any case, aside from the virus, how do you see the development and future of Dzamling Gar at this time? How is the financial situation?

Hazy sky and winds

Wind and sand damaged terrace












Gakyil from 2019: Rabgyi on extreme left and Urara second from right



UT: We have really stabilized the financial base after a difficult period with the help of the international community and their collaboration. Now the debt has been covered so we are at a starting point and from now on we have to think about how to really sustain the Gar; how to create sustainability. This year we are managing to cover the costs of the Gar.
Currently we still depend on fundraising but we have to reduce our dependence on fundraising and start to create income.

M: What are some of the ideas about how to create income?

UT: One way is to activate an accommodation program. Before in the Dzamling Gar House, we did not have enough accommodation to rent, but now we have. This will be rentals – long term, short term, for practitioners and guests who join our activities (or programs). We have thirteen houses altogether in the Gar. Dzamling Gar has its own house and now we have made it so we have more potential rentability with the Dzamling Gar house itself. Before we could not receive income because we were using it for other purposes; karma yogis, etc., and also some instructors stayed there. But now we can fully use the Dzamling Gar house for renting and having some income. Dzamling Gar/ Tenerife is perfect place for holiday for the family and I would like to open more to IDC family members, in this way naturally they could have a connection to the teaching combined with holidays.

M: What is the current legal situation of the Gar and what does that mean exactly for the Gar?

UT: We can now use the entire facility of Dzamling Gar legally and that means that our events are legal and we can also rent our facilities if we want; we can rent the Gönpa, or accommodations, or the jyagcip. There was a group that was thinking to organize some courses and rent the jyagcip, but in this moment all of that is put on hold.

M: Is that how you see the future of the Gar, by bringing people in or also possibly integrating with the local community outside through open activities?

UT: The moving out into the local community has become a difficult topic. The previous gakyil tried to promote activities outside and tried to integrate with the local community, but we are located in the south of Tenerife island and the local people who work here live in the north, so there is not really a local population to offer to, unless they are tourists. So for us it’s quite difficult to reach them.
For us it would be easier to reach to the tourists who are coming here; this location is more of a touristic place and in the past we have had many people who have come for a holiday from Europe and discovered Dzamling Gar on the street, by walking by. Sometimes they drop in and they found out about Khaita and they started to know about our activities; then they ask who we are, start to have interest, and take our brochure and information about who to contact when they return home. So Dzamling Gar really has this function of opening the door to the Dzogchen Community and I believe this is really its function. In the past with local people it has been quite difficult, but there is still a possibility.

M: So Rabgyi how do you feel about the future of Dzamling Gar and do you have a vision of how the Gar might become more self sustaining without relying always on fundraising and asking the Community for financial assistance? Do you have any ideas or suggestions about how to go ahead?

TR: I don’t have particular ideas of what we should do, but we have the opportunity to make this Gar self sustaining because we have many facilities and also the opportunity that we can do many things here, but it depends on the organization and how we manage things. The Gakyil is changing every three years and it doesn’t mean that every Gakyil has such capacity, particularly in the area of business. We really lack the people who have this kind of experience and it is something we really need.

Then I feel we should do more maintenance, but we have a lot of expenses for this. Comparing our income to what we must spend on maintenance and infrastructure costs, if we just look at this straight on it seems like an impossible situation to maintain this Gar. We make money through donations, lotteries, and auctions, plus our membership numbers are not very high, so we have no income really. Until now we have been dependent on Rinpoche.

Luckily, until recently, Rinpoche always stayed here for around six months of the year, and so people came because he was here and we had more income. Also people have a lot of energy and they come here because of the nice weather and they can escape the winter, but they don’t just come for the beach, they can work in the Gar, go to the beach, and help with the maintenance of the Gar. I feel very much if we organize in a correct way that things will go well. There are many opportunities for this Gar.

M: Have we ever thought about hiring a business manager?

UT: Yes we have discussed that but since our financial situation has been challenging we did not have the money to think about another salary. We have talked about paying the person with the money they can bring in as income through their management activities.

TR: I think if we hire someone from outside the Community it can also be very difficult. Our system is a little different than other companies and businesses and it would be very challenging for a business person from outside who is used to normal business procedures. We need someone from inside the Community.

For me Dzamling Gar is for maintaining Rinpoche’s transmission; His vision and teaching. That is why we are all here. If we lose that it doesn’t matter how much money we have, we have lost the purpose; we have lost the tree and we try and grab the branches. This we do not want to lose. This is the main point and it is not so easy to discover how we can go ahead.

Before Rinpoche was here and he was the center of the mandala and he manifested everything we needed; he gave everything, so we didn’t need to worry. Even if we had a discussion or disagreement or something we could not decide, we would go to Rinpoche and ask if this was right or wrong and he would give an answer and we would go ahead.

Also it’s not so easy, some things have not been decided by the Gakyil or internationally, so we do not have anyone to make those decisions anymore. We need to lead.

M: Can we talk about concrete projects. What are some of the concrete projects?

UT: One of the projects is what to do about the damaged tent and there is someone who still wants to buy it so most probably we will sell it very soon.

M: Some other different projects are the acoustic system in the Gönpa, the garden around the Gönpa, etc. Maybe we go one by one?

UT: We are now collaborating with a Czech company from our Vajra brothers for the acoustic system, which is a very important project, and they are providing a very good plan and so soon we will start to install a professional acoustic system.

We have decided to postpone the garden around the new Gönpa because there are not the right conditions yet. Since we haven’t paid the big taxes, construction tax and land transfer tax, and we have not been informed of the amount yet, we are still not sure how much we have to pay and how much that leaves for other projects. So first we have to finish these payments and if there is something left we can start the garden.

Another project is to change the metal front gate to a nice wooden gate. Benedetta is designing a simple, not very expensive, gate. We think it’s very good to have a nice, welcoming door.

The next project is the development and the usage of the big hall that has already been constructed below the main hall of the Gönpa. There is a very big space to the left side facing the Gönpa where originally there were supposed to be accommodations. We have some ideas and one is to put an art gallery there; an art gallery is low maintenance.

TR: I think we should have all activities in that same space where there were supposed to be accommodations: the bookstore, cafeteria, all the offices, info point, and then we can rent the spaces where we now have the offices in the Gakyil house. Now everything is scattered, it’s better to have everything in one area.

M: What would you like to tell the International Dzogchen Community about your hopes for the future of Dzamling Gar and how the international community can participate on many levels, not only financially?

UT: Rinpoche said that Dzamling Gar is physically the collaboration point for the entire Dzogchen Community, the concrete place to manifest collaboration, so it is really good we have all the various Gar houses here, but we have not been able to organize a collaboration event yet for a variety of reasons, so we can host many kinds of events for the international Community. If some other community wants to do an event maybe they can rent and use Dzamling Gar, this could be something interesting. We also need to collaborate with the Atiyoga Foundation in a good and efficient way because the Foundation is our interface to the outside for public activity.

M: What kind of activities were you thinking to rent the Gar or space in the Gar to?

UT: For example two Russian practitioners were thinking to rent the jyagcip to do a course just for Russian speaking people on Harmonious Breathing and Psychotherapy. These kind of things for example: they can come and enjoy Tenerife and nature, and also organize some Russian language tourism. We have the opportunity and infrastructure here to organize these kinds of events. We could also do this for Chinese, or Japanese, there are many possibilities.

M: Are there things we still need to repair and/or develop in our infrastructure and public access places, like the swimming pool, before we can do this kind of renting?

TR: Our swimming pool needs a lot of repair and the paint is coming off so the next solution should be to put tiles. We also might make it more shallow so that we do not need lifeguards. If only members use the pool we do not need lifeguards, but if we want to open up to the public and the pool is too deep, we do. We have had many discussions about the swimming pool but it seems the best solution is to put tiles; they last a long time and require much less maintenance so in the long term the tiles are economical.

I think the priority in Dzamling Gar is the acoustic system because if we rent the space or do our programs, sometimes it is difficult to hear and so this is a main priority. Then after that I think it would be very nice to finish the garden around the Gönpa, also there would be less dust inside the Gönpa. Then the Gönpa would be cleaner and nicer and if someone comes to see it, it looks better. Then of course there are many things to do. Also Yantra Yoga needs a place.

M: So it sounds like we are going ahead with a lot of hope.

TR: I think in Dzamling Gar there is a lot of opportunity. As we mentioned we can manage it with awareness and look at every angle, all the aspects of the Gar and the expenses, how to make money, many things, it is a tough job but we can get it done.

The difficult part is that the Gakyil is voluntary work and it is difficult for Gakyil members to dedicate two years to work and do this hard job and receive many complaints on top. But we should say that anyone who wants to do something for the Community, and for Rinpoche’s vision and his legacy, they are welcome. This is very important. We are missing human resources. Dzamling Gar is not just for residents living here, Dzamling Gar is for the worldwide Community, to enjoy Rinpoche’s songs, dances, everything.

Rinpoche passed away and his legacy is fresh to put in our hands. Every individual has a responsibility; it’s not only the Gakyil, or the International Gakyil, or the Atiyoga Foundation. People should not worry too much about the future of the Community, it is normal when the Master passes away that the students take responsibility. How many thousands of years since Garab Dorje passed away and his transmission is alive. Also many Tibetan masters have passed away. So we should take this opportunity and this responsibility and take care and not abandon things and look for someone else to take responsibility. The Dzogchen Community can do that. Rinpoche built the Community in a very good way and also most of our people, there are so many people in the Community, who have genuine capacity. We can put all our capacities together and go ahead. But if everyone is looking at each other and blaming each other, then of course it will disappear. Dzogchen will not disappear because Dzogchen has been maintained for centuries and centuries and other masters and students are alive, but the lineage of Rinpoche, if we do not take care, will disappear. This we should really convey to the people and look forward to take care of the lineage and the teachings. I think like this: if I do things in this way will Rinpoche be happy, if I do that he will not be happy, so I myself know very well which way I should go that would make him happy.

The Dzamling Gar Gakyil has really done very well. After Rinpoche passed away we had many debts and many things to deal with, it was a very heavy time for everybody, in so many different ways, but the Gakyil handled it very well and, as Urara our yellow Gakyil person said, we have paid off the debt, and now we are maintaining the Gar. Now we are standing on our feet and we have to see how we can walk forward and in which direction; before we were just trying to stand up. Rinpoche left everything in our hands and gave us many tools, and so equally we are all responsible.

M: Thank you both for your all your work and your time for this interview.

March 12, 2020, Dzamling Gar

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