Rangjung Yeshe Gomde is Tibetan for the meditation center of innate wisdom. It's also the name of a Buddhist retreat in Northern Mendocino - part of the international Rangjung Yeshe Institute.
It was founded in 1998 in honor of Tulku Urgyen, a Riponche who had passed away after expressing the wish that a dharma center for his lineage be established here in the west. Two year's later Tulku Urgyen's son, Chökyi Nyima and several senior students took a trip along the North Coast looking for property.
"Supposedly they came here and it was in terrible shape. Squatters had been here... People weren't very happy about it. But Chökyi Nyima went down to the river and did a Puja [prayer]. As happens, all of a sudden, rainbows appeared. So he said, ‘This is it.' The land was purchased," says Ani Marcia Hansen, a Buddhist nun in residence.
When asked about how she became a nun, Hansen laughs. She was a Bay Area midwife who felt she could no longer progress in her meditation without making some life changes. She talked it over with her teacher.
"He said something in Tibetan, and told me to say yes, and go to Gomde," Hansen remembers.
That was it.
Now she lives in South Leggett at the Rangjung Yeshe Gomde, a 250-acre parcel on the steep banks of the South Fork Eel River. She says the remote location helps to pull visitors away from the activities of their daily lives so they can achieve a quiet state of mind.
"Chökyi Nyima specifically chose this place being so far away because this is a retreat center. We are trying to develop it for people who are engaged in retreats," Hansen says. "One week, two weeks, a month. Especially as a beginning practitioner, one of the suggestions is to pull yourself away from the activities of work, school, you know - daily life - to sit down and quiet your mind."
The four-hour drive north from the Bay Area also helps.
The grounds include a small Sanga house, large enough to accommodate a congregation of 10-15, and a Buddha Hall large enough for 200. There are also a few modest outbuildings perched above the river where visitors can find a single-bed, space to read or meditate, and a deck with a view.
Down on the riverbank, two small houses are available for rent at a rate of $85 per night. There's also a larger, slightly fancy home reserved for traveling Rinpoches, decorated in the enigmatic symbols of Buddhism and equipped with basic luxuries like a microwave in the kitchen and DVD players in the upstairs bedrooms.
Rangjung Yeshe Gomde offers seminars and retreats, but their winter lineup is limited by a shortage of housing. Hansen says they're looking for a carpenter to come live on the grounds this summer and build cottages as part of a work-trade arrangement.
The Gomde is closed on Wednesdays and Sundays, but five days a week residents hold a small group practice in the Sanga house every morning and evening - often for just three or four people who live at the site.
There's an altar covered in religious symbology and tapestries hanging all around the room depicting religious figures from the Buddhist tradition. Rows of red benches divide the room like pews, but they're not built to sit on. Mats and pillows are placed on the ground behind each row, and the benches are used as a desktop for reading material.
Group practices involve readings from a hymnal, and vessels filled with wine or tea. Instead of communion, this is thought of as a sacrifice - and thrown out of an open door with the words, "The original fresh essence beyond concepts of enjoined, enjoiner, and object of enjoined activities, is the primordially free, uncorrupted mind of the victorious ones. Perform the activity so that we may realize it this very instant."
Rangjung Yeshe Gomde follows the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition, and they describe themselves as slightly more analysis-oriented than their more intuitive counterparts in Zen Buddhism. There are formalized elements of the art and ritual that are reminiscent of the aesthetics of Catholicism, and many other sects of Christianity.
Ani Marcia Hensen points out that whereas Christians have the 10 commandments, Buddhists have the 10 precepts. The first commandment is, "Thou shalt not kill." And the first precept is, loosely translated, "I take up the way of not killing." Both feature an emphasis on the sanctity of life, though the Buddhist approach is obviously more affirmation-oriented.
Other parallels abound. Guilt is an experience common to many religions, but Hansen says that Buddhists take a different approach to it.
"There's quite a bit of confession, and while Buddhists don't use the word repentance, it's very important that you acknowledge faults. You can't change them if you don't know what they are," Hansen says.
"Virtue in Buddhism is not good or bad. It's virtue or non-virtue. Non-virtue keeps you from understanding wisdom and cultivating compassion. Virtue is that which helps you develop wisdom and compassion - and it can change depending on the situation," she added.
Rangjung Yeshe Gomde is at 66000 Drive Thru Tree Road, immediately adjacent to the South Leggett exit from Hwy. 101, just a few miles south of the junction with Hwy. 1.
They can be reached for information about upcoming seminars by phone at 925-0201, or online at www.gomdeusa.com.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTOS BY DAVE BROOKSHER
1. Ani Marcia Hansen in the Sanga House, pointing to pictures of Chökyi Nyima and his late father, Tulku Urgyen.
2. Rangjung Yeshe Gomde's Sanga House, where meditation and group practices are held at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.