Thursday Temple Tour: Orgyen Dorje Den (Alameda, California)
“Eventually you will find yourself in a state where your mind is clear and open all the time. It is just like when the clouds are removed from the sky and the sun can clearly be seen, shining all the time. This is coming close to the state of liberation, liberation from all traces of suffering.”
– The Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche, founder of Orgyen Dorje Den
Standing proudly on Santa Clara Avenue, one of the busiest thoroughfares in the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay city of Alameda, is an oasis of serenity – Orgyen Dorje Den, a Northern California Yeshe Nyingpo Center for the Study of Tibetan Buddhism in the Nyingma Tradition. Reflections in the center’s windows of the American flag which flies above Alameda’s City Hall across the street are often captured in photographs of the building.
Established in 1978 by The Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche for the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism, members of this Buddhist organization initially rented meeting rooms for gatherings in the Chinatown neighborhoods of San Francisco and Oakland until finding their permanent home in 2001. Thanks to the generosity of an early sponsor, members of the center were able to purchase a building which had served previously Bay Area residents of all faith traditions as the Fowler-Anderson funeral chapel. Located directly across from the Alameda City Hall, this center has been described by many who have meditated here as “a place of refuge.”
Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche made his way to America in 1972, at the request of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, to teach others the principles and practices of Vajrayana Buddhism. Identified by Jamyang Khyentse in 1932 as a tulku (a consciously reincarnated spiritual being), Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche had been born just seven years earlier near the Tibetan border in China’s Sichuan Province.
As the reincarnation of a Payul lineage contemplative who had lived much of his previous life in retreat, he was reinstated as Tulku of Dhomang Monastery in eastern Tibet during a storied time in Tibetan Buddhism’s history. After studying for more than two decades with Tibet’s most revered Lamas, he was forced to flee to India in 1959 when the Chinese government invaded his homeland. (A brief overview of the joys and tribulations of this period in Tibet’s history is presented on the Dalai Lama’s website.)
In 1976, Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche was appointed by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987) to be his spiritual representative and director of the Pacific Region Yeshe Nyingpo. As director, he became a beloved teacher of many, and went on to establish a number of Buddhist centers throughout the United States, including Oregon’s Tashi Choling, Montana’s Namdroling, and Norbu Ling in Austin, Texas.
* Note: The Pacific Region directorship was another position of great honor for Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche. The superior who appointed him to this role, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, was one of the greatest Buddhist scholars, poets, and masters of meditation of the 20th century, and was the much revered former Supreme Head of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibet Buddhism.
Today, Orgyen Dorje Den continues to offer an active schedule of meditation and mindfulness training, including sessions which are open to all, regardless of practice experience level:
- Om Mani Padme Hung Recitation and Compassion Meditation (teachings with guided meditations by Lama Drimed on the 1st, 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month);
- Evening Sitting Meditation (Natural Liberation instruction every other Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. by Les Collins, a longtime student of Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche);
- Evening Vajrasattva Practice (Pujas led by one of the center’s Lamas every other Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m., and alternating between the Vajrasattva sadhanas, Dorsem Lama Chodpa and Ka-Ter Dorsem; open to all); and
- Guru Rinpoche Days and Dakini Days (sangha gatherings on the 10th and 25th days of the Lunar calendar to renew samaya commitments through meditations from the Dudjom Tersar tradition on Guru Rinpoche and the Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal).
Each of these programs is designed to enable those who participate to help make our world a kinder and more compassionate one. To learn more about these and other events, visit the center’s website.