Origins of Tsegyalgar East
The Victorious Peak of Pure and Total Presence
by John Foster
How is it that Rinpoche found his way to a small sleepy little town in Western Massachusetts, you may ask? Here’s the very short version.
In the 1970’s a group of us were students of Paul and Naomi Anderson; studying and practicing the Gurdjieff teachings. The Andersons themselves were long time students of Gurdjieff, particularly Mr. Anderson. We had, over a number of years, a number of temporary locations where we practiced and eventually found a location in Conway, Massachusetts. We bought and renovated a large farm house for housing and practice and converted a milk house into a home for the Andersons. After a celebration gathering around 1977 or 1978, Mr. A (as we called him) dissolved the group as it was constituted and invited us to join him (if we wanted) in a new direction. That new direction was Tibetan Buddhism. Most joined with him, others went their own way.
At the time, this was a shocking diversion from the Gurdjieff way and only later did it make sense. Gurdjieff himself had journeyed to Tibet a number of times and found teachings that he incorporated into a form that was more relatable to the Western mind. As well, at this time a number Tibetan lamas had come to the West and were accessible. I think that most important was the fact that Mr. A was getting up in age and wanted his students to be in good hands, if you will.
Eventually, along with Mr. A, we found ourselves students of Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Khenpo Thupten and Tulku Tundrup (who translated for Dodrupchen Rinpoche) and others. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche had come to California in 1980 or 1981 and Mr. A found out about this extraordinary teacher and invited him to Conway. Mr. A had had several strokes by this time and internal conflicts almost led us to call off Rinpoche’s visit, but Mr. A insisted he come.
Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche arrived in the summer of 1982 along with the masterful translator (from Italian) Barry Simmons and others. Mr. A was elated, as I think this was the man he was hoping he and his students would meet. Mr. A, due to his strokes, was somewhat feeble and required day and night care which we did ourselves. In a memorable moment, with Barry translating, Rinpoche and Mr. A sat together for one of the last times as Rinpoche helped him to eat. Rinpoche came again in the Winter of 1983 and by this time Mr. A had to be moved into a local nursing home due to the degree of care he needed. Mr. A passed away in the spring of 1983. Rinpoche thought so much of him that he dedicated “The Cycle of Day and Night” to Paul Anderson.
Rinpoche came back again in the summer of 1983 along with Fabio Andrico, who taught Yantra Yoga and of course with Barry Simmons for translating. The teachings that Rinpoche gave from 1982 to, I believe, 1984 can be found in the green, yellow and blue books that came from the transcriptions done from tapes by Jim Valby and I believe they are still available from the Shang Shung Institute Bookstore. In 1983 Rinpoche gave us the name of Tsegyalgar, the second Gar founded by him in course of the constellation of Gars he would found in his life. [ed. Tsegyalgar means the Victorious Peak of Pure and Total Presence]
This was a very fortunate time with Rinpoche, he was readily accessible and engaging, singing, card playing, weddings, wine, protection cord making, more wine, astrology, stories, more wine and he was always teaching, not just formally, but always. It seemed that what he taught was just for you, if you could hear.
Around 1984 or so, Rinpoche was relating the history of Ayu Khandro and the dark retreat she did for many years and the benefit of doing retreats in general to gain experience and competence in any of the practices he was teaching. The Conway location was not at all suitable for retreats as it was on a busy street and housing development was going on nearby. Joe Zurylo, who lived in Conway and owned some property close by, offered to lease some land to the Community for a retreat cabin and Rinpoche said if you build a dark retreat cabin he would teach Yangtig, so of course we did. Six rooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, the works. After dedicating the cabin and people getting a chance to experience a dark retreat, Rinpoche did one by himself for a few days and Joe relates a humorous event that occurred when Rinpoche came out of the cabin. After spending the night at Joe’s, the next morning, over breakfast, Rinpoche was excited to show the notes he had written down concerning dreams, etc, he had related to Yangtig. Opening his notebook, the pages were blank, the ball point pen he used had no ink, Joe said his expression was priceless. No worries, after rubbing the pages with a pencil, the depressions made by the pen revealed themselves.
At this point in time it was obvious that the Conway house was no longer suitable for our needs for what Rinpoche was teaching and the growth of the Community. We began to look for another property and after looking at a number of places we brought Rinpoche to land in the neighboring town of Buckland, it had an acre pond, two high hills and seclusion, but no electricity, winter access or passable roads, but he said we must acquire this land if we could, so of course we did, immediately raised money, sold the Conway property and acquired what would be Khandroling.
Rinpoche’s retreat cabin, the revelation of the Vajra Dance Terma, the Guardian cabin, retreat cabins, the Stupa, the Vajra Hall and many summer retreats on the land are another chapter in the Tsegyalgar story, but that’s another chapter. Visit soon.
Kundrolling – Place of Total Liberation
Michael Katz and the New York City Dzogchen Community
Reprinted from Mirror 128
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu has been visiting New York City since the early 1980’s. The New York Community has organized many retreats at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Columbia University, the St. Varten’s Armenian Cathedral, and many other important venues. Two important events that occurred in NYC at the world-renowned Rubin Museum were Rinpoche’s presentation of the book, The Light of Kailash, and a very successful conference sponsored by ATMA (the American Tibetan Medical Association), to which Rinpoche was invited to give the keynote address.
New York clearly has strong karma with our Master. In addition to teaching the highest practices of Ati Yoga here many times, Rinpoche also spent a year undergoing treatment and overcoming leukemia at Memorial Sloane Kettering Hospital. New York City is central to many of the stories he tells about overcoming this obstacle, which according to a prophecy he received early in his life from his Master Changchub Dorje, would have killed him were it not for his connection with Goma Devi and his Longsal Terma dreams, including the Mandarava practice.
For many years the Community of his New York students met at different practitioners’ apartments and in rented shared-spaces to accommodate our Vajra Dance Mandala, which has been in continuous use since 1994. The thought of establishing a permanent center here in New York City was considered many times, but the extremely high rents in the city made the proposition very daunting.
After one of Rinpoche’s retreats in 2005, we met for a party at Jennifer Fox’s apartment in Lower Manhattan. The energy was high, and the idea of establishing a Ling was again proposed. It was clear immediately that Rinpoche was in favor of the idea.
A space in midtown Manhattan was located, money was pledged, and the center, which Rinpoche named Kundrolling, “Place of Total Liberation”, was born.
New York City programs and events increased steadily over the years. Ongoing Ganapujas, Vajra Dance and Yantra Yoga classes took root. We also had regular workshops and weekend retreats by Santi Maha Sangha teachers and other International Dzogchen Community instructors, and attendance had increased at our little oasis in midtown Manhattan.
Update from Stephen Korns
High Rent has always been a challenge in New York City, and we have been fortunate that regular retreats by our Master and prominent Community teachers have sustained us for more than 15 years. Many local sangha members have also continued to contribute on a monthly or annual basis, in addition to their memberships in the IDC.
Despite our limited size and the open layout required for a mandala, we were able to rent space to practitioners of diverse traditions over the years, including other Dharma teachers who were approved by Rinpoche.
In April, 2019, when our third portable mandala was nearing the end of its useful life, our sangha painted a permanent mandala onto the floor of our space in the heart of New York City. We subsequently hosted retreats by Fabio Andrico, Max Leschenko and Nataly Nitsche, and a mandala dedication with Prima Mai and five international Vajra Dance instructors.
Due to New York’s fortunate role as a destination and gateway to the USA, we have enjoyed practicing in person with students of Rinpoche from all over the world, including many on route or returning from Tsegyalgar East and Khandroling. However, in March, 2020, the COVID virus hit hard in New York City, and Kundrolling was forced to suspend in-person activities indefinitely.
Kundrolling immediately moved on-line with daily Zoom practices and helped pioneer this format for the Dzogchen Community. Of course, no one knew when we might again be able to meet in person, and we continued to pay rent on our empty space for many months. In the autumn of 2020, our sangha began an open conversation about how to sustain our Ling in the future, and whether it was time to move out of this space that had been visited by Rinpoche several times, held countless practices and teachings, and was in a good location for people to reach by public transportation.
This was not an easy conversation, and our Gakyil was assisted by two professionals in the sangha to create a questionnaire for our members, friends, and interested parties to hear people’s thoughts and help us all make a decision collaboratively.
Part of the argument for moving the Ling at this time was a feeling that in order to develop a self-sustaining practice space in New York City, we needed to share the space or earn a reliable income from rentals. Many of our sangha wanted to take this time to save rent and explore purchasing a building, especially while interest rates were low and commercial spaces were being vacated due to the pandemic.
Via Zoom, we sponsored meetings with both Mark Farrington and Julia Lawless about the London/UK Dzogchen Community’s experience buying a building. We heard about Rinpoche’s stated conditions that their new space should be self-sustaining, open to all traditions, and contribute to the well-being of its Gar.
Following a vote by our members, in February, 2021, Kundrolling moved its possessions to temporary storage and vacated our space on West 30th St. We had sanded our painted mandala from the floor and restored the space to the condition in which we found it in 2005.
As part of our move, our Gakyil made a commitment to reestablish a dance mandala in New York City and we are currently preparing to discuss several options with the Community, from renting space by the hour and week to week, to teaming with other organizations within and beyond the Dzogchen Community to buy a building in the City.
We see our success depends on the enthusiastic participation of our members, just as it did when the Ling was founded in 2005. We all recognize the challenge of working without the direct collaboration of our Master, and the power of the precious transmission he gave us on so many levels, including our common purpose to realize the Dzogchen Teachings, and to work together and help one another.
We are grateful to everyone for their interest and contributions, and we look forward to seeing you at Kundrolling!