In 1978, Kagyu Thubten Chöling (KTC) (“Garden of the Buddha’s Teaching”) was founded in the tradition of Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche. KTC began as a simple one-story building. Inspired to renovate the main building and construct the three-year retreat facilities, members worked twelve and more hours a day, laying foundations and raising the walls. A few years later the renovations were completed, and the two retreat facilities (for men and women) were ready for the first three-year retreat in North America. At the instruction of the 16th Karmapa, the retreat program trains students in the Karma Kagyu lineage’s core practices. Eight retreats have been completed to date, and the next retreat will commence in mid-2016.
Following in the Buddha’s Footsteps: In 1982, Kalu Rinpoche bestowed monastic vows on several students, establishing KTC’s ordained sangha—the community that upholds the transmission of Buddha’s teachings. The establishment of one of the first American Buddhist sanghas in the Vajrayana tradition was, according to Kalu Rinpoche, a “historic occasion.” To recognize and honor the spiritual undertaking that these sangha members had embraced, Kalu Rinpoche traveled with the new sangha to three Mahayana Buddhist monasteries in upstate New York and one in New York City. KTC’s sangha members thus connected with the wider Mahayana community by sharing in the profound significance of following in the Buddha’s footsteps.
A Local & Worldwide Community: Since KTC’s founding, the three-year retreat program has been the focal point, where the next generation of Buddhist teachers have been trained. These teachers now serve KTC’s affiliate centers and communities around the world. A number of these teachers also serve as mentors to students who have enrolled in KTC’s Dharma Path, a program designed so that non-monastics can engage in the stages of Buddhist meditation practice while remaining committed to their families and jobs. However, our primary meditation space—the Shakyamuni Shrine Room in the main residence—is undersized. During seminars, the crowd spills into hallways and the dining room of the main residence. Suitable accommodations for the Gyalwang Karmapa and other visiting teachers are also essential to maintaining our commitment to offering teachings by great contemporary masters.
Integrating Buddhist Practice into a New Culture: Translating for the next generation, our three-year retreat graduates are developing translations of Buddhist texts, along with explanatory practice manuals. This offers English speakers direct access to the meaning of these sacred texts, essential to transmitting the richness of Buddhist practice. We are also working to preserve KTC’s collection of rare Tibetan, English, and Chinese books; Karma and Shangpa Kagyu texts; and audio/video recordings of Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche and many great masters who have visited KTC Monastery. To accomplish these projects requires office space and essential equipment, study areas for both resident students and the public, and rooms to hold our collections.
Lamps and Prayers: Among our core traditions is a weekly offering of 1,000 butter lamps—Tibetan candles made of clarified butter, symbolic of the light of wisdom—along with bowls of saffron water, flowers, and incense. This offering is accompanied by prayers and the reading of prayer requests submitted by individuals. For decades, this weekly tradition has provided a spiritual service to persons of all faiths. Currently using our dining area as a makeshift workroom, the volunteers who create these weekly offerings are in need of a fully equipped workspace. And as our community grows, so does the need for a bigger prayer space.
Monument for World Peace: KTC’s grounds are graced by a sixty-foot stupa (reliquary-monument), pictured to the right, which has a small meditation room. The stupa at KTC represents the Buddha’s awakening. Overlooking the Hudson River, the stupa—blessed by relics of the Buddha and other masters—is a powerful means to bring peace to the region and prevent war and disease. The Maitreya Center is being built next to the stupa. It will support the Buddha’s message by providing a forum ideal for larger gatherings and for fostering interfaith and non-sectarian understanding.
Bringing Traditions Together under the Umbrella of Maitreya's Compassion: The purpose of the Maitreya Center extends beyond expanding our physical facilities; it aims to foster spiritual community. This purpose derives from the example of the Buddha, who taught both monastic and lay practitioners of different backgrounds more than twenty-five hundred years ago in ancient India and Nepal. By establishing the Maitreya Center, we too can bring together persons of diverse backgrounds with the common aim of benefiting others through spiritual practice, global awareness, and engaged action.
Maitreya is prophesied as the next Buddha. His discourses on buddha nature—the limitless potential for awakening that is the essence of all beings—are among the most precious teachings in Buddhist literature. The Maitreya Center, therefore, is dedicated to providing a space for students to make a meaningful connection with Maitreya’s teachings. The transmission of the teachings to this country will be auspiciously represented by a Maitreya statue in the center’s main shrine hall, providing a spiritual link to the Maitreya statue at Tai Situ Rinpoche’s Sherab Ling Monastery in India and at Palpung Monastery in Tibet.
Additionally, the center will serve an ecumenical function, including a Mahayana shrine hall with a Buddha Amitabha statue and facilities to support the study of the sutras. Amitabha, translated as “Infinite Light,” vowed eons ago to ensure the rebirth in his pure realm of any sentient being who reverently recollects his name. The Mahayana, or great vehicle, is the path many Buddhist practitioners have chosen to undertake by vowing to benefit others, both spiritually and materially. Amitabha’s unbiased compassion for all sentient beings embodies the very Mahayana principle to which we aspire.
Looking to the future, the Maitreya Center is important for those of us receiving the Buddha’s teachings at this time in history—for we are pioneers in what historians years from now will likely call the fourth transmission of Buddhism. Historically, during the centuries in which the Dharma flourished in India, there were three broad cultural “waves” or transmissions as the teachings were carried from India to other cultures: East Asia, Southeast Asia, and North Asia. Beginning in the late 20th, and now in the 21st century, a new transmission is spreading across the world, while at the same time Buddhism is undergoing a renaissance in Asia. We might call this vast movement a “global” transmission, and we are fortunate to be part of this extraordinary process. That good fortune, however, involves the responsibility of creating a foundation for the Dharma flourish for the benefit of future generations.
May all be auspicious!