The Mindrolling Lotus Garden

Michael Alvarez

Situated in the serene beauty of the Shenandoah Valley in Western Virginia sits an equally serene Buddhist retreat and meditation center. Located specifically at 108 Bodhi Way, Stanley, Virginia, the Mindrolling Lotus Garden offers a variety of programs built to not only educate those interested in the Dharma and meditation, but to also collect and preserve ancient teachings from across several different schools of Buddhism.

Overall, the Mindrolling (pronounced min-drol-ling) Lotus Garden exists primarily as a location for both practicing Buddhists and those who are just interested in the Dharma to learn and study in beautiful seclusion. The Mindrolling Lotus Garden doesn’t just follow the lineage of Mindrolling in the classical Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma tradition; rather, The Lotus Garden operates as the North American Seat of Mindrolling International, an international organization dedicated to the preservation and teaching of the Mindrolling tradition.

The Mindrolling Lotus Garden is situated in a secluded area just outside the town of Stanley, Virginia. The 200-acre grounds are comprised of a large walking garden, conveniently named Buddha Park, several buildings that house teachers, practitioners, and visitors, and a few other structures in which practitioners can pray and receive teachings. The majority of the property is made up of the Dechen Gatsal, the area of the property devoted to wilderness retreats, in which visitors can venture into by themselves or with a teacher. The Lotus Garden is currently in the process of building a massive Temple in the heart of the property. The Temple, known as Mindrol Gatsal, began construction in the summer of 2015, and is expected to be finished sometime in 2019 or 2020.

The Mindrolling Lotus Garden was founded in 2003 by Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, a lama of the Mindrolling tradition. Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche was born on August 19th, 1967 to the 11th throne holder of the Mindrolling tradition, Kyabje Mindrolling Trichen Gyurme Kunzang Wangyal. In the Mindrolling tradition, the daughters of the Trichen, the throne holder of the lineage, are referred to by the title of Jetsun. This tradition of Jetsunmas began in the mid-17h century with the founding of Mindrolling itself, with the founder of the tradition, Chogyal Terdag Lingpa, and his daughter, Jetsun Mingyal Paldron. Throughout the history of Mindrolling, Jetsunmas have been regarded as some of the wisest and greatest teachers of the tradition. At age 2, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, already a member of the Nyingma tradition, was recognized by Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa of the Kagyu tradition, as the re-incarnated Great Dakini of Tsurphu Monastery, Urgyen Tsomo, one of the most respected female teachers of this era, as well as the consort of Khakyab Dorje, the 15th Karmapa. This rare distinction of being a direct member of both the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions allowed Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche to dedicate her life to the advancement and teaching of the Dharma, and the Mindrolling tradition in particular. In 1994, Rinpoche traveled to Baltimore, Maryland from her native India in order to give teachings to some 20 or so practitioners at the Baltimore Shambhala Center. In the intervening 9 years, Rinpoche, accompanied by her Lopons (teachers), as well as her sister and fellow teacher, Mindrolling Jetsun Dechen Paldron, continued to teach across the country and eventually led to the founding of Mindrolling Lotus Garden, the new headquarters of the Mindrolling tradition in the United States. Today, Rinpoche spends her time travelling between the United States, India, and Europe, teaching the traditions of Mindrolling, in addition to general teachings on the Buddha and the Dharma. Her sister Jetsun Dechen Paldron operates as her second in command within the Mindrolling organization. Paldron spends six months out of the year at Mindrolling Lotus Garden, running the day-to-day operations. Rinpoche herself comes back to America during the summer months, and leads the largest organized retreat that the Lotus Garden offers every year, the Mindrol Lekshey Summer Program, a 6-week intensive Buddhist retreat that runs from the middle of July to the end of August.

The school of Mindrolling finds its roots in the oldest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma school. The teachings of the Mindrolling school therefore follow the same basic structure as that of Nyingma traditions, which spends much time focusing on tantric meditation and study. The school of Nyingma was established roughly in the late 8th century CE by the great Indian Buddhist teacher Padmasambhava when he came to Tibet at the request of the king of Tibet, Trisong Detsen. Detsen also ordered the mass translation of numerous Buddhist texts into the Tibetan language. These translations would not only shape the teachings of the Dharma in Tibet for centuries, it also helped to create the basic foundation of the modern Tibetan language, as the translation of the texts brought about various new phrases and styles of speech.  Together, Padmasambhava and Detsen established what we know today as the Nyingma school of Buddhism, which, like all forms of Vajrayana (the over-arching school of Buddhist thought that the majority of Tibetan Buddhism stems from), believes in the idea of the “diamond vehicle”. The “diamond vehicle”, literally the translation of Vajrayana, is the school of Buddhism that sees itself as an amalgamation of all schools of Buddhism, taking various practices from both Mahayana and Theravada traditions, as well as adding newer, more specific practices. One of these practices is the idea of tantric meditation. Tantric meditation uses mantras and other forms of meditative practice to create a peaceful state in which one can study their own mind and the dharma. This is not unlike other forms of Buddhist practice, however, the central idea of Bodhicitta is where the two differ. This idea of Bodhicitta is the practice of not just achieving enlightenment, but to see one’s self as a Buddha and seek the betterment of all others through loving kindness and compassion. These ideas are the foundation of what Rinpoche and her Lopons teach at the Lotus Garden.

While the Mindrolling Lotus Garden finds its roots in the near 1500-year history of the Nyingma tradition, the modern-day Lotus Garden has co-opted a more generalized mindset. The teachings involved at the Lotus Garden are numerous, with the majority of teachings being those in basic tantric and meditative practices. These group sessions are usually taught by the four in-house Lopons who live on the grounds. These four Lopons interestingly are all Americans, each having been trained in the Buddhist tradition for at least 20 years. All four Lopons have been students of Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche since her first visit to the United States in 1994. If one were to take any of the courses offered at the Lotus Garden, one of these trained practitioners will most likely be the instructor. Throughout the 8-month period in which the Lotus Garden is in operation (The campus itself closes for the season from early January to mid-April), numerous lessons can be taken, all of varying time, intensity, and commitment. The two most popular programs would be the lessons in meditation, as well as retreats. Meditation sessions are taught by all four Lopons. Some lessons are low-key. These focus on the basics of meditative practices, such as understanding the concepts of a mantra or Bodhicitta. These lessons can be made by appointment with the Lotus Garden, and are low-commitment. However, for those looking for a more intensive practice, meditative classes that meet regularly and look at the more advanced materials of the practice are available year-round. Retreats are also a big hit at the Lotus Garden. Led by a retreat master (A Drupon), these excursions into the 200-acre wilderness are a classic form of meditative practice. These retreats are available to both a group or an individual, and both can be accomplished throughout the year during operation. Two large retreats are planned each year, with the largest, the Mindrol Lekshey Summer Program, led by Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche herself. Occasionally monks and nuns from the Mindrolling Monastery in India will travel to the Lotus Garden for a few weeks and give teachings. The arrival of the monastics usually coincides with one of the larger retreats.

While many of the practitioners who attend the Lotus Garden are converts, the largest group that the Lotus Garden caters to would be lay people with very little to no knowledge of Buddhism or its practices. The Lotus Garden, and Mindrolling International as a whole, have made it a primary goal of the Lotus Garden to educate and provide people who are curious about the practice the ability to experiment in relative seclusion. All knowledge of the Dharma is welcome at the Lotus Garden, but the primary goal of the institution would be education and further studying of the texts. This lines up with the general mission statement of Rinpoche’s Mindrolling International organization, which looks to spread the ideas of Vajrayana as a whole, and Mindrolling in particular, throughout the world, as well as to continue to discover, translate, and understand Vajrayana and other Buddhist texts, teachings, and histories. The Lotus Garden’s impact with other communities can be seen in this vein as well. Mindrolling International has other campuses throughout America, Europe, and India, all dedicated to the same purpose that the Lotus Garden embodies.

Overall, The Mindrolling Lotus Garden in Stanley, Virginia stands as one of the more authentic and intimate Buddhist experiences in the region. Incorporating the teachings of masters of the Vajrayana tradition, as well as occasional teachings by a lama and a spiritual leader of the Nyingma tradition, The Mindrolling Lotus Garden combines wise teachings with the serene isolation of the Shenandoah Valley to create one of the more interesting Buddhist communities in the United States.

 

Bibliography

“Mindrolling Lotus Garden Homepage.” MINDROLLING LOTUS GARDEN, Mindrolling                  International, 2018, www.lotusgardens.org/.

“Mindrolling International Homepage.” Mindrolling International, Mindrolling                                    International, 2018 www.mindrollinginternational.org/.

“Her Eminence Mindrolling Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche.” Her Eminence Mindrolling Jetsn                Khandro Rinpoche, Mindrolling International , 2018,                                                          www.khandrorinpoche.org/.