2021 marks a symbolic moment in the life of Merigar. In fact, forty years have passed since the ‘Podere Nuovo’ farmhouse and land was bought and began to develop as the first center of the International Dzogchen Community.
By tracing the span of these 40 years in detail we are trying to cultivate, organize and preserve a trace of everything that has happened at Merigar and that will continue to happen here. It is important to know and remember, in general, the route that has been taken and the journey made up to now in order to set out a path that can be followed in the current circumstances, without forgetting the basic principles of the Dzogchen Community, born and nurtured in the Teachings of our precious Master, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. The decision to buy some land arose from the need and the encouragement of our Master to no longer be “nomads”, to have a “physical” place that would be a focal point for those wishing to know, deepen, and practice the Dzogchen Teaching that he transmitted (and, at the same time, a point of reference for those who then carry within themselves the seed of transmission).
In the early years the Yellow House was renovated, the small stupa and the ‘barn’ which now houses the Mandala Hall and the Library were built. Then there were many teaching and practice retreats led by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, which within just a few years attracted an increasing number of people from all over the world.
In 1990, the Gönpa was inaugurated in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was later expanded to accommodate retreats with several hundred participants. In the nineties our Master invited the leading exponents of the various Buddhist schools to teach and this made evident the non-sectarian approach of the Dzogchen Teaching, and at the same time strengthened this place through the practices of different traditions and lineages.
From the 1980s, but especially from the 1990s onwards, several other Gars and Lings began to flourish around the world. The international community has become increasingly numerous and widespread throughout the globe and so in the last twenty years, in order to facilitate sharing, the webcast was introduced and is widely used.
An important moment in this journey were the celebrations of the first 30 years of Merigar, in 2011. The Master strongly urged us to open up and practitioners arrived from all over the world to participate in three days of cultural, musical and convivial activities appreciated and enjoyed by our practitioners and by all the local communities of the Municipalities of Arcidosso, Santa Fiora and Castel del Piano. Up to that time the activities of Merigar and the whole Dzogchen Community had been directed mainly at the people united in the transmission of the Master. On that occasion, the Master urged us to take our practices out of Merigar and give demonstrations of Yantra Yoga and Vajra Dance in the squares of the surrounding villages, recounting how we practitioners try to bring the Teaching into daily life. In the same villages there were meetings on education and well-being, performances and dishes cooked according to the traditions of all the places of origin of the various members of the Dzogchen Community. It was an event that brought together students of the Master from all over the world to Merigar, and made Merigar and the Community known to many who had never even heard of it.
But more than the event itself, it is important to remember Rinpoche’s strong encouragement to be open, to feel part of civil society, to remember that practice, teaching, is not just an individual path. One of the desirable side effects is to become a better citizen who plays his or her part in the world.
This aspect was further expressed in the creation of the MACO Museum in Arcidosso. It is important to remember and emphasize that one of the last public acts in our Master’s earthly life was to be awarded the honor of Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, a civil and institutional recognition that testifies how important his work was for all of civil society, not just for those who follow individual spiritual practices.
In 2018 the Master, after tirelessly transmitting his precious teachings to us for decades, left his physical body. It is now the task of all of us, his students, to continue our path of evolution, to collaborate with other students, precious virtuous companions, and thus be of benefit to all beings with whom we share this earthly dimension. Now Merigar is no longer a barren mountain with rough roads to travel to be reached as it was 40 years ago. Going along an easy road, you arrive at a place where a wonderful great Gönpa was built, an architectural work that is unique in the world, fruit of the vision of Namkhai Norbu, frescoed with images, mantras and symbols of great pictorial refinement and intrinsic power. A building capable of accommodating the most diverse activities. A few meters from the Gönpa there is the cinerarium, where the ashes of many students of Namkhai Norbu are kept. The practice of traveling companions can thus also be of support in the journey beyond earthly life. On one side of the Gönpa there is a stupa, a Buddhist symbolic construction, made of Carrara marble, inside which the teachings of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu are preserved.
In the building that houses the Mandala Room, different types of practices take place; ancient and modern Tibetan texts can be consulted in the library and various types of courses and events are held there. The building also houses the multimedia archive, which is undergoing reorganization.
The MACO Museum is located in the nearby town of Arcidosso, where the precious collection of Namkhai Norbu is exhibited, which tells the story of the life and culture of Tibet. In the Yellow House there is a space dedicated to the administration offices of the Dzogchen Community, the refectory and the shop, places for socializing and sharing.
Above all, the remains of our Master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu have been held in the Great Stupa of Enlightenment from 3 October 2018, this place of great power and impact, regarded with respect by all visitors and with great emotion by all of us, his disciples.
A timeline of the main events of our history is now under construction on the Merigar website. The one that is published here is a preview of this work. In this issue of The Mirror you can see the history of the first 20 years (1981-2001) of Merigar, while in the next issue you will find the following ones (2001-2021).
In 1981 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, together with a first group of students, chooses Mount Amiata as the site of his first center dedicated to Dzogchen Buddhism. During the search for suitable land to host the Dzogchen Community in central Italy, a property is identified located on the hills wedged between Mount Amiata and Mount Labro. It is a long-abandoned agricultural holding, with a few hectares of land and with only one rural building in poor condition. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu identifies a suitable hill on this land to house the future temple. In October 1981 the property is purchased.
The first years are spent renovating the Yellow House, building the small stupa and the ‘barn’ (now the Mandala Hall and Library) and with many teaching and practice retreats led by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu which in just a few years attract more and more people from all over the world.
In April 1982 the first tarchog flag is raised on which several mantras are handwritten.
During the first year, everyone participates in the renovation of the main building (later called Serkhang or Yellow House) and in the improvement of the land and infrastructure.
From 9 to 24 June the first teaching retreat with Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, whose theme is the Dzogchen Upadesha, is held at Merigar. The second retreat takes place in the same year, from December 20, 1982 to January 1, 1983.
On Monday, October 4, 1982, a particularly auspicious day from an astrological point of view, during an important meeting, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu explains his own understanding of how the Community will function: the first Gakyil and the role of the Gekö are created. Construction of the Small Stupa of Enlightenment begins, the first Stupa of Merigar.
1983 is the year of the foundation of the Shang Shung publishing house which has the main purpose of publishing the teachings of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and other masters, with topics ranging from Dzogchen to Buddhism, Yantra Yoga, Tibetan culture and traditional medicine, in the form of translations, commentaries, and practice texts, as well as study materials in audio, video and multimedia formats.
At the beginning of the year of the Wood Mouse, the first of the sixty-year cycle (rabjung), lungta prayer flags are prepared and hung and several trees are planted. The house is painted yellow and there is a veranda on the first floor. With the help of the Municipality of Arcidosso, work begins on a new road that will arrive near Merigar.
On November 23, 1984, the Dzogchen Community Cultural Association is established.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu starts to design Merigar’s Gönpa.
The Zikhang building that today houses the Mandala Hall and the Library is inaugurated.
The Municipality of Arcidosso approves the construction project of the Gönpa of Merigar.
Construction of the Merigar Gönpa begins.
29 May – the inauguration of the Gönpa of Merigar and the Shang Shung Institute in the presence of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, the rectors of the universities of Rome and Naples, the president of the ISMEO and many other professors, including the ethnologist and orientalist Fosco Maraini. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu is invited to give the welcome address.
In September Chögyal Namkhai Norbu holds the first retreat in the new Gönpa of Merigar.
In the same period Chögyal Namkhai Norbu teaches the Vajra Dance for the first time at Merigar, and the first mandala is painted in the Zikhang building.
August 15-16: Celebrations for the 10th anniversary of Merigar.
In April, in the Gönpa of Merigar, during a teaching retreat, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu presents the study and practice program called Santi Maha Sangha, which literally means “Dzogchen Community” in the ancient language of Oddiyana. The aim of this program is to train practitioners so that they are able to achieve real and in-depth knowledge of the Dzogchen teachings based on personal experience.
2nd International Seminar on Tibetan Language held in Merigar’s Gönpa
The Zikhang building which houses the library and the Mandala Hall is renovated. The floor of the Hall is now made of wood and is ready to be painted with the colors of the mandala of the Vajra Dance. In the Library, a reorganization and inventory project begins.
At the time of the inauguration of the Gönpa in 1990, the decorations, paintings and inscriptions that adorn it today did not exist. To facilitate the work of decorating the temple, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu writes an illustrated text with colored drawings in his own hand in which the symbolic value of the decorations and paintings is explained in depth. The text serves as a guide for the various painters and artists who came from all over the world to decorate the temple. The execution of the paintings, inscriptions and decorations takes place in 1993 and 1994. The translation of the text The Temple of the Great Contemplation was published in 2014.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu examines the decoration sketches of the Gönpa with Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche.
The Mandala Room is inaugurated and the library cataloging project led by Dr. Mauro Nascari continues.
The work of decorating the temple continues.
The decorations and paintings in the Merigar Gönpa are completed.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu returns to Merigar after hospitalization and treatment in the United States.
On June 15 the first stone of the Great Stupa of Enlightenment is laid.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu with local authorities on the day of the inauguration of the Great Stupa of Enlightenment at Merigar.
Merigar celebrates Vesak in collaboration with the UBI (Italian Buddhist Union).
In the last weekend of May, Merigar is the venue for the celebrations of Vesak, the anniversary of the Buddha’s birth, his awakening and parinirvana. The event is organized in collaboration with the Italian Buddhist Union and sees the participation of more than three hundred and fifty Buddhists, monks, nuns and lay people of the Vajrayana, Zen, Theravada and Chan traditions.
20 Years of Merigar. The enlargement of the Gönpa begins: the roof is enlarged along the entire perimeter of the octagon and the windows moved outwards.