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Slow train coming

  The space is pervaded with green, with the chirping of birds and the sweet smell of pollen. We are in the countryside of Dordogne, and it would be difficult for anyone to find a more idyllic setting. In general, I try not to read the news, especially here, but whenever I do, that idyllic image is replaced by another one: the slow train, picking up speed downhill. The machine engineers are incompetent and instead of stopping it and repairing the faults with care, they keep on loading it with coal. Its lights are on in the darkness; they illuminate only the small patch in front, so the passengers could see the end, but only in a fashion.  Why are we in a such a hurry to destroy our civilisation? Do we have so much that we are bored with it? There was this boredom in the air before the epidemic in 2020. I had the feeling that people, especially the young ones, were waiting eagerly for something to happen. Anything. Just not that day after day boredom. They were trying to shake it off –

Tibetan Buddhism in the Dordogne, a brief history

The area of Dordogne, or le Perigord, in France is famous for its prehistoric treasures, castles, wine and, surprisingly, for its Buddhist centres. This is a short history of the centres in the area of Bergerac - all of them in a radius of 10 miles. The reason for their proximity is quite a simple one - the land for all of them, apart from the Sakya centre of Changlochen Ling, was donated by Mr Bernard Benson, a very unusual man of English origin who had a passion for inventions, fast cars and ... Tibetan masters.

Mr Benson arrived in the area in the 60s and bought a beautiful 15th-century chateau - Chateau de Chabans. He settled in the Dordogne and later went on a trip to India with Arnaud Desjardins, a documentary filmmaker who popularised Tibetan Buddhism in France. In India, Benson met some great Tibetan masters who were in exile from their homeland. He became convinced that they needed a new home and invited them to his land. That is how, thanks to Benson, France became the major refuge for Tibetan Buddhists.

Starting in 1974, Benson donated vast parts of his property to the 16th Karmapa, the great spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu School. This was the beginning of the Dhagpo Kagyu Ling centre.

Benson then gave land to several other Lamas, keeping only the chateau for himself and his family. He finally sold the chateau and retired to the Riviera. He passed away in the 90s.

Here are the five centres built on the land donated by Mr Benson, most of them on the Cote de Jor that overlooks the Vezere:

Dhagpo Kagyu Ling was founded in 1977 by Lama Gendun Rinpoche and Lama Jigme Rinpoche according the instructions of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. It is the European seat of HH 17th Karmapa and is under the guidance of the General Secretary of His Holiness Karmapa, Ven. Jigme Rinpoche.

Songtsen Chanteloube. After the death of Kangyur Rinpoche in Darjeeling, his son Pema Wangyal Rinpoche invited two great masters of the Nyingma school - Dudjom Rinpoche and Dingo Khyentse Rinpoche. So in 1980, they founded the Chanteloube centre for 3 years retreat in an old farmhouse, originally on Benson's land. Alongside its teaching activities, the centre runs the famous publishing house Padmakara.

Urgyen Samye Choling is just a mile from Dhagpo Kagyu Ling, at Laugeral. It was founded in 1977 by Dudjom Rinpoche and belongs to the Nyingma School. He lived in a house called la Pechardie, right on the road site until his death in 1987.

Nehnang Samten Choling at Les Tranchats is to the north of the others, on the other side of Benson's property, near the village of Plazac. The centre was founded in 1975 by Pawo Rinpoche mainly for retreats. He lived there for 9 years but left to found a monastery in Nepal where he passed away in 1991.

The retreat centre Shechen Tennyi Darjeeling was founded in 1982 by Dingo Khyentse Rinpoche.

The newest centre in the area is Sakya Changlochen Ling, founded by Lama Jampa Thaye on Karma Thinley Rinpoche's instructions, is not built on Benson's land. The land was purchased in 1990 and the property was developed slowly. The old barn bought with the land was converted into a beautiful Perigordian style house, which accommodates a large shrine-room. It is used mainly for big courses in the summer and for group or individual retreats.


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