Heartfelt Work

When purchased in 1991, the property that has blossomed into today’s Tsogyelgar consisted of a pre-Civil War era farmhouse, a dilapidated barn, outbuildings in various state of disrepair and overgrown fields gone to seed. Those of us fortunate enough to have been around in those days have borne witness to an incredible transformation, the unfolding of Traktung Khepa’s vision over years and decades. How was this ramshackle property transformed to a Buddhafield pureland?

The momentum of Love in action, fueled by devotion to t.k’s manifestation of truth, beauty and goodness. To see this unfold over the years has been astounding.

t.k’s favorite movie, which he has watched hundreds of times and shared with us all many times over, is Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 film “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” about the life of Saint Francis. One of the many fabulous things about this movie is the soundtrack by Donovan — including “The Little Church”, a song Rinpoche has had us sing:

If you want your dream to be
Take your time, go slowly
Do few things but do them well
Heartfelt work grows purely

Day by day, stone by stone
Build your secret slowly
Day by day, you'll grow too
You'll know heaven's glory

This describes the transformation of Tsogyelgar — day by day, stone by stone.  Looking back on this, what was also being built day by day, stone by stone was the sangha ethos of serving the good, the beautiful, the true. For some people this resonates immediately, for others like myself it is an ongoing process of learning that service of the divine is the utmost joy, and the expression of our deepest human longing. When I began attending teachings in the living room of t.k. and Tsochen Khandro’s house on Miller Avenue in Ann Arbor, I intuited that I was hearing, and in the presence of, Truth. It was a deep sense that this Truth was more fundamental that any idea I had constructed about what “truth” might be, and from this I was drawn into the stream of t.k’s grace. I wanted to follow this. What I did not yet intuit was the work involved — that truly, “faith without works is dead”. 

t.k. has told us a story of when he was first living in the Osho ashram in Washington D.C., and was talking to someone after dinner one night about feeling like he was disconnected, being on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, the others around the table were getting up to go do the dishes. The person t.k. was talking to said, “of course you feel disconnected — you’re out here talking to me while everyone else is in there doing the dishes!” So he went in the kitchen and joined the dishline, telling us that as soon as someone handed him a dish to dry, the glass wall of alienation shattered. A simple act of participation and one is caught up in the stream. 

Another song t.k. has played for us, by Bob Dylan:

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

When I joined the sangha and entered the teachings I had the notion that the path would be strictly an intellectual exercise. The kinds of projects we were doing for Seva didn’t fit this notion — I hadn’t made the connection between working on the Gar and the work of a spiritual path. But I joined in because of my desire to enter in some way the truth I was intuiting from t.k, and the sense that serving t.k’s vision was the noble cause we all yearn for. With Tsogyelgar, t.k. created an access point to wisdom, our own Buddha nature, that we could enter simply by showing up and lending a hand. t.k. has given us this opportunity at Tsogyelgar – to serve somebody, to serve Truth, to back up faith with works. 

This work created a circumstance to earn what in Buddhism is known as merit, the momentum of positive energy needed to engage the path. 

Mind is full of habit. Negative habits consume energy. Tremendous energy is needed to break the shackles of deluded perception. Positive habits produce energy. Change negative habits into positive habits to go beyond all habits (any other way is the fantasy of arrogance of immaturity. Eye to Form is Only Love

t.k. has created the circumstance for us to generate merit, to change negative habits into positive habits. And fantasy is cut through when provided with the opportunity to weed a garden, harvest crops, fix up a barn, any of the myriad tasks and opportunities provided. Spiritual pretense doesn’t get the weeding done. 

And so began the transformation of Tsogyelgar, day by day, stone by stone. One outbuilding was transformed into a meditation hall that held about 20 people if we all bunched together. Through the early years, this room and the living room of the farmhouse housed programs and retreats. Collapsing pig and goat sheds were transformed into meditation huts, land was cleared for gardens and fountains, and the Gar as we know it today began to take shape. With t.k’s vision as the guiding light, work on Tsogyelgar as the body of Yeshe Tsogyel developed as an act of devotion. Sangha projects bring together an eclectic group motivated by love and a willingness to get dirty. t.k. once told us that our lineage is “Dharma that sweats!”

In 1998 t.k. announced the plan to demo half of the farmhouse and construct a new addition, including a larger shrine room in the basement. Construction began in the spring and continued through the year, with demolition beginning in earnest when t.k. plowed into the old kitchen with a Bobcat. The sangha worked several months on the addition and larger shrine room to accommodate a growing group.  Circumstances align to support Rinpoche’s action, such as sanghamates who just happen to be skilled in heavy construction and negotiating a steel girder into place with a front end loader. The need for mindfulness in these situations is not abstract!

The past decade has seen the founding and growth of the sangha businesses of White Lotus Farms. Today’s commercial baking operation took root in a hand-constructed brick wood-fired oven that produced Trinle Tsomo’s first loaves of bread - stone by stone, literally. A creamery and greenhouse were then built as the foundation of the bountiful cheese and produce White Lotus Farms sells at farmer’s markets and local restaurants. t.k’s manifestation of beauty, truth and goodness extends to delicious food, created with love, integrity and purity to benefit body and mind. 

Tsogyelgar, as the body of Yeshe Tsogyel, is the embodiment of living mystery;  how will the Gar continue to transform over the coming years and decades? As it has over the past three decades — with love in action, day by day, stone by stone, fueled by t.k’s beneficial vision. We may not know how this will manifest, but to quote the spiritual master Rudi: “I know one thing — I am going to hold on for the ride.”

— Rigdzin
Student at Tsogyelgar