On Blazing Wisdom Institute's Upcoming Twentieth Anniversary
In early 1998, about a year after I became his translator, His Holiness Orgyen Kusum Lingpa visited for the first time my home in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, New York. At night he kept a scribe busy recording his vajra words, and in the morning he gave his seal and a letter creating Sherab Mebar Ling, or Blazing Wisdom Institute ("BWI").
Three locations and twenty years later, BWI remains as the only active dharma center established by His Holiness outside Tibet and held by a full-time resident Lama whom he appointed. With neither pride nor humility, I can state that this is one of the numerous ways in which BWI serves a unique role in the world of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. I need not elaborate on these unique features; if you care to be reading this, you probably can confirm at least some of them from your own perspective and experience.
The continued existence and mission of BWI is the result of the convergence of many factors and points of interdependence, just like everything else. And like everything else, BWI has grown and evolved as well. As I told our sangha when we contemplated our move to Saugerties, NY, a few years ago, the same choice is always presented: we either grow and adapt or perish. I have to imagine that my own dogged determination to fulfill HH Kusum Lingpa's intention is one among these points and factors.
Another critical point is that we have managed never to offer a single program or effect a single project principally to generate revenues to fund the existence of BWI. Through grace and luck, we have avoided this vicious cycle that turns a dharma sanctuary or vehicle into another samsaric trapping.
Accordingly, every Lama we have hosted and invited to teach has been genuine and exceptionally well-qualified to teach what we requested. For a small dharma center, we can be proud of our record. HH Kusum Lingpa visited six times. Tulku Hungkar Rinpoche, his principal lineage holder, visited twice to lead our first and second annual Rimay Monlam gatherings. Sangngag Tenzin Rinpoche of Golog, who as a child was blessed by His Holiness to become a future dharma teacher, also visited twice to offer precious texts by Longchenpa.
We hosted a teaching visit by Garchen Rinpoche, and Mingyur Rinpoche accompanied by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche also graced us with a short teaching visit. Khen Sonam Topgyal Rinpoche of Riwoche has been our Khenpo from the start and has taught five advanced courses, among other visits.
From the Chogling Tersar tradition, Tsangsar Tulku gave Sangtig Dorsem empowerment and other teachings, Lama Tsultrim Zangpo taught the 4 mandala Tara ritual for a week, and Lama Ozer also visited. From the Dudjom treasure tradition, Lama Thubten Phuntsog spent six months in retreat residence and teaching at BWI.
In addition to the above, at least two dozen other Lamas, Himalayan or Western, have visited and/or practiced at BWI, foremost among them Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, who kindly attended our inauguration day pujas in Saugerties with Lama Tratop in 2014. I personally have had the opportunity to offer more teaching programs at BWI than I can count or remember, notwithstanding that much of my work has been in other areas (teaching in other places and countries, translating and publishing, and serving in other ways).
Thinking back on just the past year or so, I have offered a twenty-five hour (English only) course on the Thirty Seven Points of Training of the Victors' Children; a week-long closed Powa retreat; a course on Longchenpa's Resting in Meditation; four weekend programs for the Tara Triple Excellence course; a Chod program; a Vajrasattva teaching, and many others, and also led a week-long Rimay Monlam earlier this summer.
Most of these courses and teachings and practice retreats were offered gratis or for the cost of meals/expenses alone. Sometimes people offered $100 or $200 in gratitude for our programs, of their own volition. More often they offered $10 or $20. And it has not been uncommon for people to offer $1 or zero, honestly. But somehow, the dana economy has carried us this far, and we have kept a cautious eye on hope and fear in relation to it.
Mainly, extraordinary donations by BWI's most loyal supporters have seen us through, and not donations from specific programs.
As I reflect now upon and share with you where we have been, and where we might yet go, I have concluded that injecting a slightly higher degree of predictability into our financial planning might make it more likely that BWI will see a twenty-fifth anniversary, and beyond. The underground water leak in the fall of 2016 took $25,000 to detect and fix--this was a lesson not to be ignored about the marginal nature of our cash flow.
Therefore, I would like to announce to all those who see the benefit and virtue of the continued existence of BWI, that for the first time we will make available, at the wise suggestion of one of our Board members, an option to pledge a recurring monthly amount of dana toward the operating costs of the dharma center.
This button for recurring donations does require you to have a PayPal account upon which to draw and is set up as a monthly payment.
In either case, you can modify your original pledge or recurring payment as you see fit. Our goal is rather modest: barring extraordinary expenditures, if we can raise just $3,000 per month for operations, we can maintain the center on par with the recent past. If we raise more, we can make further needed repairs and upgrades as time goes by, and handle contingencies within reason.
If you share the conviction that BWI exists for good and valid purposes as a sanctuary for our lineages of genuine dharma instruction and practice, and wish for me and all of us to continue in this work, you are welcome to help ensure that this continues to be the case going forward, and share in the merit and virtue of our collective good intentions and skillful actions.
Thank you for your kind attention!