"Doing good seeking rewards is a contaminated virtue. Doing good without thought of reward, dedicating it to enlightenment, is uncontaminated virtue. Contamination and non-contamination refer to the state of mind of the doer, not to the good deed itself."
By Kevin Damaskie
Driving down a bumpy gravel road on the east side of Daisy Lake I look ahead, watching for any signs of life. Suddenly a coyote leaps out of the bush, but rather than running across the road the coyote continues on, leading me. That's good, because I don't know where I'm going. Below me Daisy Lake is almost full and looking very nice, in front of me somewhere is a Buddhist retreat. The coyote veers off the road and into the trees and suddenly I see another road, with an open gate.
The gate ahead looks relatively unassuming, the small sign on the bar has a message written on it in a delicate, blue script: "Sea to Sky Retreat," it reads. I must be in the right place. Whoa, look up, through the trees: "No Trespassing," the second sign reads.
I look down at the invitation on the seat of the truck.
"His eminence Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and the members of Siddhartha's Intent cordially invite you to an Open House celebrating the completion and opening of the Sea to Sky Retreat." You're on the right road, carry on tired pilgrim, I say to myself. I park the truck and get out searching for robe-clad monks wandering about in Bonsai gardens murmuring mantric verses.
What I walked into was a beautiful yard with two houses side by side, one substantially larger than the other, five colourful banners adorn tall posts on the hillside and flap lazily in the breeze as I stroll by. I walk into the larger house where it seems the activity is taking place. No acolytes here, only well-dressed folks milling about chatting, some bearing cocktails and hor's d'oeuvre.
Maybe I'm at the wrong Buddhist retreat.
No, look left, someone with a robe on. This someone is Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, the reason why most of these people — and this entire development, for that matter, are here. Rinpoche is a teacher of the Rime (non-sectarian) movement of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The 34-year-old Rinpoche was born in Bhutan, Nepal's eastern neighbour, and is said to be the third activity incarnation of Khyentse Wangpo the Great, a unifier of Tibetan Buddhism in the last century. Rinpoche has taught and led retreats throughout the world since 1984, as well as maintaining his responsibilities as head of monasteries in Tibet, Bhutan and India.
In 1989 Lucy Armentrout-Ma was going to the University of California at Berkeley, studying cultural anthropology. For a break she decided on a five-day vacation at a Buddhist retreat in Colorado. There, she heard the man they call Rinpoche, speak.
"There's something about his air at those meetings and what he talks about makes sense," says Armentrout-Ma, now 27 and still very California. For the next three years she voraciously read Buddhist texts and works, all the while studying and graduating from U.C. Berkeley with honours.
"I quit grad school after the first quarter and came up here and instead of writing papers I would be creating something that would benefit other people," she says as we stroll around the grounds.
The Sea to Sky Retreat is the result of three years of planning and hard work. Founded by an organization called Siddhartha's Intent, a world wide Bhuddist group headquartered in Vancouver and supported by the students of Rinpoche. The organization has offices in California, Australia, Hong Kong, Delhi and now the new six-building Sea to Sky Retreat, built on 44 acres of land purchased from former Liberal MLA Art Cowie in 1992. The price tag on the land was just under $500,000 and with construction costs more than half a million dollars the retreat cost "around $1.2 million" says Amelia Chow, the financial officer at the International Headquarters of Siddhartha's Intent in Vancouver.
"Because of Rinpoche's charisma and teaching he has a group of very supportive students," Chow says. Most of the money to build the retreat came from "sponsors" in the United States, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Students of Rinpoche, like Armentrout-Ma and Chow will now be spending time at the Sea to Sky Retreat on study sessions and retreats, some up to six months in length.
The Sea to Sky Retreat is going to be a largely private place, as meditation and study requires a place "where the phone doesn't always ring and you don't have to worry about what you have to do at work the next day," says Armentrout-Ma. The first retreat began on Wednesday. The gate is now shut as students and Rinpoche get down to the serious business of becoming better Buddhists.
Mal Watson is a tall, blonde Australian with broad hands and an even broader smile. He was the project co-ordinator for the construction and design for the Sea to Sky Retreat and, along with Karma, an aptly-named Bhutanese monk, Armentrout-Ma and a Belgian Buddhist named Luc Dierckx, did a vast majority of the labour at the Sea to Sky Retreat. The framing, plumbing, drywall work and road construction was done by local contractors. With plenty of volunteer help from other students of Rinpoche, the retreat is now a reality.
"We've been working so hard to get this place finished it's hard to think of what to do, now that most of the work is done," Watson says after Sunday's grand opening celebration, attended by about 60 students, well-wishers, curiosity seekers and contractors. The work, meticulous in detail and sturdy in design, shows some thought has gone into the creation of the lakeside retreat. Watson is also going to have time to think. Now that the final flurry of construction has ended, he is going into retreat for six months, prior to preparing to work on his next project for Rinpoche — the Stupa of Omniscient Compassion, to be built in Bodhgaya, India.
A Stupa is a reliquary commemorating the lives of great beings beyond their existence. The Stupa of Omniscient Compassion will be erected near the place the Bhudda attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
To the outsider it could look like Rinpoche has created a very strong cult of personality. After a few hours with a student like Armentrout-Ma it's obvious why she's here.
"I'm a Buddhist first and a student of Rinpoche second," she says. "To me being a Buddhist is always trying to make progress toward being a better person… which essentially I think everybody wishes they could say. That's why I came here to help build this place. I hope we can create something beautiful for others to use. But I chose Rinpoche as my teacher for a reason."
The few of Rinpoche's students I spoke to said they appreciate his wisdom and sensible humour. "Whatever it is, Rinpoche seems to be able to see what is going on inside of people," Armentrout-Ma says, adding she does not know how much longer she plans on spending at the Sea to Sky Retreat — the next six months at least as she is taking part in the first retreat.
The construction is not quite done — the roof is the only part of the planned Bhutanese bathhouse that is in place and the windows on Rinpoche's house have to be weather sealed, but it will be done in time. Armentrout-Ma says the first time she went to a Buddhist retreat she expected to encounter "religious freaks wandering around chanting" — just like me when I walked up the gate of the Sea to Sky Retreat.
Live and learn, much like the common-sense teachings of the Buddha.