Friday, 29 February 2008

A venue to host Honoured Guests

In addition to providing a home base for the Aro Tradition in the UK ( Drala Jong will provide a venue to host guest teachers from around the world. In recent years Sang-ngak-chö-dzong - our UK registered charity - has invited teachers such as Lopon P Ogyan Tanzin Rinpoche (see below) and Lama Tharchin Rinpoche (pictured here) to teach in Britain. Unfortunately we've never been able to host such honoured guest teachers in the manner or for the time that we would like, due to the physical and financial constraints of rented venues.

Lama Tharchin Rinpoche is the lineage head of the Repkong ngakpas - the largest dra'tsang (tantric college) of ngakpas in Tibet. Lama Tharchin Rinpoche ( last visited in 1996, when we were able to host him giving public teachings on the Seven Line Song of Padmasambhava, according to the commentary of Mipham Rinpoche. It was during this visit that Lama Tharchin Rinpoche publically gave students of Ngak'chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen the instruction to use the epithet 'Ngak'chang' when refering to our teacher - as previously we had addressed him as Ngakpa Chögyam Rinpoche. We hope Drala Jong will furnish generations who visit with the inspiration to become 'great masters of mantra' - 'Ngak'chang' - and that we will be able to host other teachers of such kindness, accomplishment and erudition as Lama Tharchin Rinpoche to benefit all who have an interest in the teachings of the Nyingma Tradition in Britain.
The little boy in the picture is young Robert - the son of Ngak'chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen. It is also our intent that Drala Jong be a family friendly centre, able to accomodate students with children, and able to host family retreats for those with either practicing (Buddhist) or non-practicing partners.

Friday, 22 February 2008

The meaning of 'Drala Jong', and ties to Ling Gésar

When my wife Ngakma Shé-zér & I approached our teachers Ngak'chang Chögyam Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen about launching this appeal, we particularly excited when it came to requesting a name for the centre. I think for us the name was going to somehow make the whole thing more tangible - even though we started out with no idea how to raise the £500,000 we felt we needed to set up a centre.

Traditionally Ngak'chang Rinpoche would give a name to a place such as a gompa only once he'd been there and had a sense of the place and the space it occupied. Since we didn't have the funds, let a alone a potential venue at this stage, we thought at the very least Ngak'chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen would want to sleep on the matter. However in the moment, the name Drala Jong arose. We were delighted. We asked for a teaching on the name, then, later on, Ngak'chang Rinpoche kindly agreed to write about the meaning. This is what he wrote:

Drala Jong innately exists in human beings. ‘Drala’ is the appreciative faculty which exponentially enlivens people the more they engage with the world. Appreciation is the key to enjoyment and to the delighting in the enjoyment of others. When we learn to appreciate phenomena our sense fields ‘Jong’ begin to sparkle and a sense of generosity is born which connects us with others. Although Vajrayana Buddhism is by no means unknown in the West – the sense in which enjoyment and compassion are mutually interdependent remains unexpressed. We would like Drala Jong to be a place where human beings could discover the pleasure of existence – the pleasure that animates the sense fields and revitalises the Arts – and the art of living.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche, 13th September 2006, Penarth, Wales

We were particularly delighted that 'Drala' is part of the centre's name, as Drala is connected with practices associated with Ling Gésar. Gésar training from the gTérma of Rang-rig Togden has recently started to be offered by teachers from the Aro Tradition - specifically our vajra brothers Naljorpa Chhi'med Kunzang in California, and Naljorpa Bar-ché Dorje in Finland (see for details). This training contains elements of equestrianism, martial arts, and physical yoga and we intend to invite Gésar teachers to Drala Jong to give instruction on these practices once the centre is opened.

The Ling Gesar story is part of popular Tibetan folklore, but there are also practices associated with him found in several different Buddhist lineages. When visiting Kyabjé Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Samphel in Nepal films were shown of Gésar's life, and Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Samphel dressed in Ling Gésar costume, gave gifts associated with Ling Gésar and demonstrated Gésar cham.

More recently, Sang-ngak-chö-dzong was able to facilitate a series of visits to the UK by Lopon P. Ogyan Tanzin Rinpoche, a teacher from the Dud'jom gTér and headmaster of a gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé school in India, and (see for his UK teaching contacts). During his busy teaching schedule on his recent visits he has attended Aro gTér events and given teaching on Nyingma history and also Ling Gésar cham to practitioners from the Aro Tradition.

So all these strands that connect the Aro gTér to Ling Gésar have come together in recent years and his practices are now part of the wider Aro Tradition - and 'Drala' is enshrined in the name of our planned UK retreat centre.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

New donation & fund update

I'm delighted to report that this week we have received our largest single donation to date - £5,000 - and that this takes the total appeal fund to £54,996. Every donation is welcome - the smallest to date has been £2 - but it's always nice to improve on our record. Some donations come from members of the Aro Tradition - one of the primary lineages supported by our charity Sang-ngak-chö-dzong - whilst many have come from people outside the tradition. This was one such, and we're very appreciative of the gift.

For those who haven't read the appeal document our goal is to raise £500,000, so this donation is a big step for us. Our thanks to our latest donors - you know who you are!

If you'd like a copy of the appeal brochure it's available for purchase in hard copy or soft copy at with all profits going to the appeal fund.

Presently I'll be posting on a couple of fund raising opportunities that I hope interest the readership.

Best regards to one and all.


Friday, 8 February 2008

What others have said about the appeal

Whenever I receive a letter from someone considerate enough to take the time to write to me about our project, it gives me great heart. I thought that volunteers and donors might be interested in some of the feedback we've received. A selection of comments follow from some of the individuals and organisations outside of Sang-ngak-chö-dzong and the Aro gTér who have been kind enough to voice their support.

". . .we hope our donation goes some way to helping you achieve your total to build the new centre. . . and wish you every success with your venture. . ."

Tracy O'Sullivan, the cyril & eve jumbo charitable trust - registered UK charity no. 1097209

". . . this is for a great cause. . .'

Ewan Hunter, CEO The Hunter Foundation

". . . the best of luck. . .'

Keeley Youle, Virgin Management Ltd.

"May all be auspicious!"

Caroline Sherwood, Freelance journalist

"Their Royal Highnesses much appreciated your writing to them and have asked me to send you their best wishes"

David Hutson, Assistant Treasurer to TRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall

"Thank you very much for your letter. . . I read the [appeal] document with great interest and do wish you every success. . . Please do keep me informed of your progress."

Jessica Morden, Labour MP for Newport East

"I'm really excited to hear about the Drala Jong centre and would like to be kept in touch with developments. Good luck with the development of this wonderful project!"

Jonathan Middlemiss, Artist

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Why now? Kyabjé Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche & Jomo Samphel

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 tendancy 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 fulfillment 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 ngongdro 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 focussed 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 fund raising appeal.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

How can I contribute to the Drala Jong appeal?

The appeal is supported by Sang-ngak-cho-dzong - UK registered charity no. 1019886 - which was given it's name by HH Dud'jom Rinpoche. This is the emblem of the charity that has been used since it's foundation.


Volunteers who have time or skills to offer are always most welcome, and should write to me to discuss what might be possible.


Donors can donate by post, in GBP £ or Euros, sending a cheque or postal order payable to 'SNCD' and marked 'Drala Jong' on the reverse.

Paypal donations in USD $, GBP £, and Euros, can be sent to

Sang-ngak-chö-dzong (SNCD) is a UK registered charity, no. 1019886, run by unpaid volunteers from the Aro Tradition. If you are a UK income tax payer please mark any donation 'Gift Aid' which will enable us to reclaim tax back on every pound donated.

Postal Address

Postal donations and correspondance can be sent c/o 20 Longcroft Road, Caldicot, Monmouthshire, NP26 4EX.

Drala Jong - Dud'jom Rinpoche & 1977

In 1977 His Holiness Dud'jom Rinpoche gave direction to Ngak'chang Chögyam Rinpoche that he must work to preserve the gendun karpo in the West.

Gendun karpo literally means 'white sangha' and refers to the colour of our skirts - as distinct from the gendun marpo or red skirted monastic sangha. We are also known variously as the ngak'phang sangha ('mantra wielding', in reference to the fruitional stage of the mantra practice in which we engage) and also the 'gö-kar-chang-lo'i-dé' (the series of those who wear white skirts and maintain long hair). This tradition of ordination is based upon the teachings of Buddhist Tantra, whereas monasticism is based upon Buddhist sutra.

The gendun karpo has been subject to huge political pressure since the end of the first spread of Buddhism in Tibet. In modernity the pressure is such that almost all Tibetan women who practice in this style hide from public gaze, rarely wearing the characteristic white skirt. Many male practitioners also wear the red skirt of the monastic tradition to avoid persecution.

Prior to his passing in 1988, Dud'jom Rinpoche was the head of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and every Nyingma Lama of the mid-late 20th Century revered him as their teacher. He gave the name 'Sang-ngak-chö-dzong' ('secret fortress of mantra') as an inspiration for this accomplishment of his vision. In 1988 Ngak'chang Rinpoche ordained Lama Nor'dzin Pamo - the first Western woman to take ordination into this stream of practice. As time has passed many others have taken these vows, such that in the year 2000, 84 sangha members spent a week together in Baarlo in the Netherlands, which concluded with 25 ordained sangha members emerging from the retreat. In the meantime in 1993 Sang-ngak-chö-dzong became a registered UK charity. This charity has since supported this unique style of practice, including helping make available teachings from the Aro gTér, Dud'jom gTér, Khordong gTér and Chang gTér. The Drala Jong appeal is the next step in our commitment to Dud'jom Rinpoche to see the gendun karpo permanently established in the West.

I have the great pleasure to be the appeal director for this work, and this blog is intended to give supporters and the wider public a little insight into how we are setting about fulfilling our promise to His Holiness Dud'jom Rinpoche.