VAJRA VIDYA INSTITUTE
In the peaceful and uplifted atmosphere of Sarnath, near Varanasi, the Buddha gave the first cycle of teachings know as the “Four Noble Truths”. Sarnath is one of the major Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the world. In ancient times it was known as Rsipatana or “the place where sages gather”. There is a large and beautiful park in Sarnath that is maintained by the Mahaboudhi Society. In the park are the large Dhamek Stupa, the famous Ashokan pillar crowned with four lions which became the national symbol of India, the excavated ruins of the large monasteries, Deer Park and the Mahaboudhi temple containing a tooth relic of the Buddha.
In the area surrounding the park are Buddhist temples representing the sects of several countries, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Japan, Burma, Korea and Tibet. The Central Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies, also located in Sarnath, is a school for the study of all four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. This university is financed through the generosity of the Indian Government.
Thrangu Rinpoche established the Vajra Vidya Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies in Sarnath, behind Deer Park. This area is now known to the local people as “Kajoohe Village”. His Holiness the Dalai Lama inaugurated the Institute in December 1999. The supreme head of the Karma Kagyu Lineage, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Thinley consecrated the Institute on his ten-day visit in February 2001. The Karmapa has stayed at the VVI several times since then.
The architecture of the Institute is very special as it was designed by Thrangu Rinpoche and is based on ancient Buddhist and Tibetan traditions and the mandala principle. The main shrine room is devoted to Buddha Shakyamuni.
Thrangu Rinpoche said this about the Institute's purpose:
"When Tibetans had to flee their country, the statues, stupas, and texts were almost all lost. Some Tibetan lamas escaped to India, and among them were quite a few great lamas. So at that time, there were problems, but due to the presence of these highly realized masters, the danger of losing the Dharma was not so great. Now these great lamas are gradually passing away, and in general, I feel that if we do not train fine people who have good qualities and practice experience, we will lose many of the oral instructions that are so precious. . . . In terms of maintaining the Karma Kagyu tradition, if things do not turn out well, the continuum of oral instructions, the texts and commentaries of the previous Karmapas would be lost and the lineage would suffer great ruin. Therefore, the Institute in Varanasi, with its two sections of study and practice, was built to sustain the great tradition of these teachings."
The Vajra Vidya Institute is currently training more than seventy ordained monks in Buddhist Philosophy in general and in the teachings of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in particular so that they may become Buddhist teachers. The monks are studying with the resident Khenpos (accredited teachers) under the guidance of Thrangu Rinpoche. As well, Thrangu Rinpoche is giving an annual international seminar for students both lay and monastic. The blessings of this sacred area will inspire all students to a deeper understanding of the teachings and will help to preserve the lineage of teaching and realization.
At Vajra Vidya, the students follow a five-year program of study including:
The Five Great Texts:
1. Madhyamika philosophy
2. The Prajna Paramita Sutras
3. The Abhidharma Gosh
4. The Vinaya - along with the commentaries of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje
5. Dialectics and logic: studied through The Ocean of Reasoning by the Seventh Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso
They also study:
The Profound Inner Nature, Distinguishing Wisdom and Consciousness and Revealing the Essence by the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje
Uttaratantrashastra by Arya Maitreya
The two volumes on Hevajra
The Three Vows
The deep study of the texts allows the tradition to be maintained within the understanding of the students who can then pass them on to the next generation.
As well as the texts and commentaries, they study Tibetan grammar, poetry, debate, Hindi and English languages.
Plans are underway to create an extensive library, including audiovisual archives of teachings. The Institute is publishing Dharma texts for use by students at the Institute and other colleges for Buddhist studies. The Institute would like to make translation of texts into English for to those who do not read in Tibetan. The studies of Tibetan Medicine and Astrology will also be offered in the future.
The Annual Gathering of Kagyu Shedra Students
The Karma Gooncho is a month long program of winter teachings which has been held each year alternately at several Kagyu shedras. The program was held in the Vajra Vidya Institute at the time of the opening of the Institute in November 1999 and again in 2001, 2002, 2004.
These teachings focus on debates among the different teams from the various shedras. The subjects of the debates are Buddhist philosophical views. The debating becomes very lively and is often continued well after the formal period. Debate is considered to be useful to attain certainty of the views and to sharpen the mind.
As well, there is teaching and the students are taught by the Khenpos of the shedras and by Thrangu Rinpoche when he is in attendance. The shedra students of Vajra Vidya Institute, Nalanda University in Rumtek, Sikkim, Sherab Ling in India and Karma Lekshey Ling in Nepal and other Kagyu monasteries are participating. Around four hundred students attended the Gooncho. During the Gooncho in November/December 2004, HH Karmapa attended and was teaching logic to the monks.
KARMA KAGYU CONFERENCE – January 1-5, 2002
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Thinley, headed the first annual conference. Attending were H.E. Gyaltsab Rinpoche, H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gayest, Drupen Rinpoche, and Khenpo Karthur Rinpoche and Bardor Tulku, both from Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York, Karmapa’s seat in North America. Delegates from many Kagyu monasteries also attended.
The focus of the meeting was the practice in the monasteries of Marpa’s practice lineage and generally to ensure that the practice and education of the Kagyu tradition is being maintained correctly. Decisions were made at that time concerning how the practices and customs of the tantras are being performed and to set up a proper schedule for all the monasteries to practice these traditions in a way that is unaltered. Curriculum of the shedras was discussed and decisions were made concerning the shedra education and meditation practice. Decisions were also made that involve monastic discipline and training and the responsibilities of the head lamas, faculty and staff.
The next conference will also be held at the Vajra Vidya Institute.
VAJRA VIDYA ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL SEMINAR
Thrangu Rinpoche teaches yearly at the VVI, usually for two weeks during February to March, depending on the time of Tibetan New Year. The seminar is attended by students from all over the world who stay together at the new guesthouse, the institute, and guesthouses in the area. As well as the daily teaching, there are various meditation practice sessions, Tibetan language study, text translation and discussion.
The VVI GUESTHOUSE AND KAGYU DHARMACHAKRA STUPA
Located next to the VVI, the new guesthouse has twenty rooms with attached bathrooms, a meditation room and dining hall with kitchen. This facility is suitable for group retreats, as well as individual guests, as it is completely self contained in its own compound. In the compound garden is the newly consecrated Kagyu Dharmachakra Stupa where visitors can meditate and circumambulate.
The Institute, since the time of starting construction in 1992, has maintained a medical clinic that attends to the needs of the people in the area surrounding the monastery and the workers who are employed at the VVI. Twice weekly, a doctor comes from Varanasi to hold a clinic. The dispensary is stocked with common medicines and first aid which several of the monks have learned to use when needed. In February/March 2002, for the first time, a dental clinic will be held daily, during that time, with a volunteer dentist and assistant from the U.S. based organization, Himalayan Dental Relief .
THE BOOK STORE AND COFFEE SHOP
The Vajra Vidya Bookstore has many of Thrangu Rinpoche’s books, many texts and other Dharma books. As well there’s an assortment of statues, thankas, Buddhist ritual objects etc. The coffee shop is a popular place to meet and also to study. The shop’s store carries many useful items such as notebooks, toilet paper, batteries etc. Both are run by the monks and all profit goes to the Monks Welfare Committee.
Rinpoche’s vision for the Vajra Vidya Institute is to create a place of learning that is accessible for all those interested in Buddhist philosophy. In the future, the Institute will expand from 70 to 200 students including both lay and monastic students from different countries.
Sarnath is located about 15 minutes by car from Varanasi, a holy city for Hindus and home of the famous Sanskrit University and the Benares Hindu University. The Ganges River in Varanasi is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhist. Sarnath is also close to the Varanasi airport with daily flights from Kathmandu and Delhi and is close to major bus and train routes.
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