Mahasiddha Nyingmapa Center
This weekend has been cold and rain has bucketed down. I’ve always spoken well of the rain deva’s (in animistic cultures, spirits said to affect the weather – either friends or enemies of the dhutanga monk) and feel they have been kind to me yet again – for by seeming coincidence they chose to break their weeks of draught during a time when I was visiting my friend Paul living beside the Mahasiddha temple in Hawley. I had the entire holiday weekend for personal retreat, practicing Anapanasati listening to the steady rain and rushing mountain streams.
Happily, several friends came to offer Dana through the weekend, and got to share in the beautiful natural setting.
“I’ve lived my whole life 3 miles down the road, and I had no idea this was here.” This was said recently by one Buckland resident, and it’s a sentiment echoed repeatedly by American Buddhists about the quiet and enduring institutions in their midst. The Mahasiddha Nyingmapa Center is one such easily-missed temple.
Nestled in the hills of Hawley, MA, the temple is the American seat of the Tibetan master Dodrupchen Rinpoche. He is the fourth incarnation, meaning that he has been confirmed through a traditional process as having reincarnated three times since his original life as an esteemed Buddhist teacher in Tibet. If you can see the benefits coming from monastics who have been in the robes even a few years, imagine multiplying that by two centuries and you will have a sense of his esteem in Tibetan culture.
With the fall of Tibet to the Chinese in the 1950’s, Dodrupchen Rinpoche was invited to establish himself in the nearby kingdom of Sikkim. It was there that in the 1970’s a group of free-spirited hippies from Conway, MA, met him and developed faith in his teachings. When they returned home they sent him a simple letter asking him to come and give them and their friends the refuges and precepts.
This humble, two-minute ceremony, which we repeat every lunar day for the Uposatha, is the simplest act of undertaking the Buddhist path: expressing confidence in the Buddha, his teaching, and the community, and undertaking a basic set of moral precepts. Despite being abbot of a thriving monastery, Dodrupchen Rinpoche didn’t overlook the request. Instead he stored the letter carefully away.
When Dodrupchen Rinpoche was invited to visit the United States, he was immersed in a strange political landscape of charismatic and controversial Tibetan lama’s courting rich donors and building lavish monasteries. In 1973, Rinpoche managed to navigate all of this and, without really explaining it to anyone, eventually arrived in the humble rural town in western Massachusetts. By getting people to make a few phone calls, he located the group who had made the original request. “I’m the Fourth Dodrupchen Rinpoche, lineage holder of the Longchen Nyingtik.” he said. “I’ve come to give the precepts.”
That first meeting and giving of refuges and precepts planted the seed of what was to become an enduring multi-generational Buddhist community. A piece of land was donated in Hawley and a temple built. Dodrupchen returned to his monastery in the east but has continued to come and give teachings almost every year, the last in 2018. He is quite elderly and no one can say for sure whether he can make another trip, COVID notwithstanding, or whether a fifth incarnation will arrive in the future after his passing to continue the teachings.
Nevertheless, his teachings live on in his western disciples, a group of which still gather faithfully every Saturday and Sunday for chanting, mantras and visualization meditation. The order is fairly specific and dedicated to Rinpoche, but their weekend programs are still open to attendance for anyone with an interest in learning more.