History of the Tibetan Meditation Center of Gainesville
April 2002 – First Center was on the Third Floor of a historic building in downtown Gainesville. It was Drupon’s first visit. Khenchen, Lama Sonam, Drupon and Ani Drolkar
often blessed our center with their teachings.
The Tibetan Meditation Center of Gainesville, Florida was formed by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche in 1999 when several practitioners asked his advice about what to print on the flyers for the precious Dharma teachings he brought to them. He said, “ Tibetan Meditation Center, it is simple and people can understand what they will find”. Khenchen was just about to start teachings on the Refuge practice and also lead a wedding ceremony for Rachel and Donald Long, the founders of what would become the new Dharma center. While Rachel and Don had known Khenchen from previous visits to Gainesville and had invited him back to teach again, it was the first time that their friends, Millard and Angela Pate met him. The Pates had brought a picture of their wedding which was at a Tibetan monastery in Nepal almost 15 years earlier to share with Khenchen at the wedding. He gave both the newly married couple and the “old” married couple many blessings and seemed as if he had known both for a long long time. Millard often recollects that it was the first wedding reception he had ever attended where he preferred to just sit quietly without needing to engage in any conversation. He and Khenchen spent most of the reception sitting in the same place together listening quietly amidst the celebrating crowd. Rachel glowed, Don beamed and the Tibetan Meditation Center in Gainesville was born.
Once the idea was here, that we were now a Dharma Center, after Khenchen had left, we thought it would be good to have a space in which to practice. We began on the third floor of a downtown building that was built in 1865. The room had been built as a Masonic Lodge then and had hosted many years of ritual and spiritual practice. Originally the room was going to be rented as office space, but when practitioners came there and experienced the space with its the gilded gold ceiling, the more than century old heartwood pine floors and the many 6 foot windows on both the east and west wall that allowed sunlight to stream in both morning and evening, it was impossible to use it for anything other than Dharma practice. The very first week of practice we got a call from the Gedun Monastery monks who were traveling through town and looking for a place to create a sand mandala. They came and their blessings seemed to flow down from that room all over downtown Gainesville. Crowds of people came somehow on their own over the week they created the mandala and were overwhelming at the closing ceremony. Rachel and Angela looked at each other in amazement at one point when they could fit no more people onto the third floor and realized they were witnessing the center manifesting itself.
Heart Shrine Relic Tour at TMC Gainesville
Drupon Thinley Ningpo Rinpoche has come to our center twice a year since his first visit in 2002. A local sister Dharma Center, the Gateless Gate, that practiced Korean Buddhism often brought Drupon to the Florida prisons to practice with inmates there. Drupon was the only Tibetan monk that had clearance into the Florida Department of Corrections correctional facilities. Some prisoners sat in meditation with Drupon for up to 12 hours at a time and greatly appreciated his peace and tranquility even though at first he could not speak English. These are some pictures of him during his meditation sessions with the inmates.
On one trip to Gainesville, Khenchen was taken by some practitioners to a 143 acre lakefront property that was being considered by the local Karma Kagyu group for a monastery site for His Holiness the Karmapa. We asked him to bless the land and remove any obstacles for this to take place. He walked the land and said there was a great potential for Dharma in our area. He also spent time with a local group of architecture students from the University of Florida who adopted the future monastery project as a class assignment. Khenchen reviewed their finished projects at the end of their studio class with all the UF students and their teacher and answered many questions on what makes a monastery, how they work on a daily basis, the cultural differences in the East and West and how this could transform to the western world. It was a great experience for everyone as the young students presented some fairly modern and far reaching ideas of monastery design and usage and asked many questions about Buddhism and Dharma practice. Five years later, in 2005 the land was purchased by the Karma Kagyu groups and the development is just beginning on making these dreams a reality. When the preliminary designs and concepts were presented to H.H. the Karmapa in the summer of 2006 he said that this center should not only provide opportunity for all Tibetan lineages to offer teachings and activities but also become a cultural center for the community as a whole. The monastery and Dharma center continues to develop as HH manifests his vision.
In 2002 Khenchen asked the Gainesville practitioners
if they were ready to sponsor a resident num coming to Gainesville
from India. After four attempts at a visa (and a couple
of years later) Ani Tenzin Choezin finally arrived in December
of 2005 to Florida. After leading us in practice for many
months she is now traveling. We look forward to her return
Welcome to America Ani Tenzin Choezin at the airport the night Ani arrived.
Ani-la came from the Terdrom Nunnery in Tibet (shown above). Just last year Khenchen asked us to become a sister center to this nunnery so that we could help to support each other. We aspire to support them more and hope to visit there someday and have more nuns come here.
The center eventually moved from its downtown location to a dedicated home centrally located on a main street in Gainesville.Again, in the first week, in the new center we got a call to host another great Dharma offering, the Heart Shrine Relic tour. We squeezed it into our new small shrine room and people filed past single file. It was another wonderful event with which to introduce our new home to the community. The new center was a stand alone cracker house built of heartwood pine in 1907, with beautiful old wood fireplaces and a great front porch. It was a beautiful Dharma house for several years. One room was dedicated to the shrine room and Dharma practitioners lived in the other rooms. It hosted many teachings from Drupon Thinley Ningpo, Khenpo Tsultrim and Khenpo Sherab Ozer. Ani Drolkar came up often from Clearwater and many practitioners came from Orlando, Tampa, Tallahasse, Jacksonville and all over North Florida on many occasions. It was a very family oriented center. We always cooked big meals where food seemed to manifest out of nothing to create great feasts. We had some wonderful retreats. Rachel had her acupuncture practice there for one year and it also housed the Gateless Gate, the Korean zen center with us for a couple of years. We will always remember travelers sleeping on our shrine room floor and sitting under the trees with our teachers at lunch times between teachings.
2006 - Achi teaching with Drupon Thinley Ningpo in backyard of
our second location Dharma house.
In 2006 the Center moved for its third location,
to a small house on a 2.5 acre park like setting with large
old oak trees. .
Our practitioners have had consistent practice
together since 1999 and plan to continue through the future
ups and downs as we have in the past. Some have been fortunate
enough to travel to other Drikung centers in the US and
to Jang Chub Ling in Dehra Dun, India. Some have traveled
throughout India, Tibet, Sikkim and Nepal to other lineage
monasteries. Some have sponsored monks to come to Gainesville
on several occasions and one is working now to bring a young
Tibetan boy here for much needed medical surgery. We are
blessed beyond all expectations to have received the precious
Dharma that has transformed our li ves forever. Our hope
is to continue to share that gift with everyone who comes
through our doors. We also dedicated oursel ves to help
to support the Tibetan Meditation Center in Frederick Maryland
as the home of our teachers and our extended Dharma family.
It is a wonderful feeling to know we are part of a group
of such centers created by Khenchen and the other Drikung
teachers around the world. We dedicate all our effort and
merit to all beings everywhere and thank our teachers for
their priceless gifts to us. May we practice well and give
back more than we have received to help others.