Whilst the original inspiration for the foundation of Sang-ngak-chö-dzong came from His Holiness Dud’jom Rinpoche, the idea of having our own retreat place has not always been at the forefront of the thinking of our tradition. Indeed when I joined the tradition there was still a tendency to indulge in a gentle play on words, whereby we used the epithet ‘the Tibetan Tantric periphery’ to describe ourselves because we had no (retreat) centre. We would regularly hold yogic encampment retreats, as these were very much in the keeping with our tradition in Tibet; ordinations have always been a celebration of the fulfilment of our collective commitment to Dud’jom Rinpoche to sustain the go-kar-chang-lo’i-dé. Sometimes other Nyingma practitioners from outside the Aro Tradition have requested these vows, and those of great dedication and sincerity who have met the ngondro requirements have been given them. Each time this has happened the promise is reaffirmed. However a retreat centre has only occasionally been the subject of discussion.
This was to change however. In 1995 it was with great delight that my teachers Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen had a chance encounter that led to them meeting Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Samphel in Kathmandu, Nepal. Ngak’chang Rinpoche had studied the Dzogchen teachings with Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche many years previously, having been directed to him in order to receive these practices by Dud’jom Rinpoche. Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche is particularly important therefore in terms of the Aro gTér, as it is a Dzogchen lineage. At the end of his studies, Ngak’chang Rinpoche had been instructed that this period of his study was concluded and that it was time to move into the next phase of his life and practice. Rinpoche did not expect to see Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche again in this lifetime and Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche was known to live an itinerant lifestyle, rarely letting people know where he would be staying or for how long. It would have been impossible to stay in touch even if he had wanted to, so it was a complete surprise to be invited to see him during a pilgrimage to the East.
This chance meeting led to a series of pilgrimages to the Kathmandu valley, which focused on students in our tradition spending time with Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Samphel. We are always warmly welcomed, and after a period of time the offer was made to found a retreat centre for Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Samphel in the area. They were advancing in age, and it seemed perhaps it might finally be time for them to settle. Funds were raised, and sent through various third parties to the East, but as these things sometimes fall out in the East the plans didn’t quite go as had been intended.
During a visit a couple of years ago by practitioners from the Aro Tradition, concern was being expressed that due to outside action funds had not got to where they had been intended to go. Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche responded ‘I am an old man. I have never been interested in having a centre of my own in the past and am not sure why I thought it might be a good idea to have one now. Centres are very important in the West; very important to help firmly establish traditions such as yours. You must keep your money and build your own centre in the West.‘ And thus we started our fundraising appeal.