BRISTOL, England—The Aro gTér lineage of the Nyingma tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism marked the 25th anniversary of the Buddhist charity Sang-ngak-chö-dzong (SNCD) in the English city of Bristol over the weekend, celebrating a quarter century of promoting Vajrayana Buddhism in the West and supporting the non-monastic Aro gTér lineage.
More than 120 sangha members and guests gathered in grounds of Kings Weston House, an 18th century stately home on the outskirts of the city, to celebrate the occasion with a day of talks, activities, workshops, demonstrations, and presentations that highlighted the traditions of the lineage, the accomplishments of the charity since its establishment in 1993, and a vision for the future of the Aro gTér lineage in the United Kingdom and beyond.
The SNCD’s primary objective has been helping to build and support a community of gö-kar-chang-lo’i-dé (white skirt long hair) non-monastic practitioners in the West through a rich tradition of spiritual and physical practices and Tibetan arts and crafts. The charity is also currently conducting a fundraising drive to finance the establishment of a Buddhist retreat center in rural Wales.
“Sang-ngak-chö-dzong is a UK charity representing the Aro gTér tradition and supports the preservation of Buddhist teachings according to the Nyingma tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism, explained Ngakma Mé-tsal Wangmo, a senior Aro gTér teacher and female practitioner. “The name Sang-ngak-chö-dzong was given to us by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche specifically for our work of establishing the non-celibate householder tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.”
Topics addressed by the program of talks and presentations during the anniversary observations included the history and future of Vajrayana Buddhism, relationships as a Buddhist practice, and vajra-romance and the possibility of remaining in love forever. Talks were presented by the lineage holders Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Dechen, the principal teachers of the Aro gTér lineage, and other lamas from the tradition. Activities and demonstrations included Buddhist crafts, cham dance, thangka painting, music, and traditional Western dance as an expression of enlightenend practice and society.
“The occasion marked for me the fulfillment of Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje Rinpoche’s request to Ngak’chang Rinpoche to establish the non-monastic sangha in the West. Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen have worked for 40 years to bring that into being, and for me the weekend was a celebration of that. It was entirely heartwarming to witness such glimpses of the breadth and depth of what has been achieved over the past 25 years of the charity’s activity,” said Mé-tsal.
“We’re looking forward to what the next 25 years will bring as we consolidate the presence of the non-monastic stream of Vajrayana practice here. Having our own retreat centre will enable us to offer the remarkable and valuable teachings and practices of the lineage to a wider audience of folk interested in essential Vajrayana. Exciting times ahead!”
Cham performance. From Drala Jong Facebook
The Aro gTér tradition traces its lineage of enlightened female practitioners to Yeshe Tsogyel. Known as the mother of Tibetan Buddhism, Yeshe Tsogyel was a female master and teacher who, together with her consort Padmasambhava, founded the Nyingma school of Vajrayana Buddhism. Aro gTér is a small family lineage within that tradition, founded by the female visionary Lama Aro Lingma in 1909.
The teachers of the Aro gTér tradition are householders who are ordained tantrikas, rather than monastic practitioners. Many of them teach as married couples and maintain conventional careers and raise families alongside their practice and teaching commitments and obligations.
In describing the practices and aims of the tradition, the SNCD states: “The focus of our activity is in the UK and on the teachings of the Aro gTér, a Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist lineage whose unusual characteristics make it singularly appropriate for many Westerners. The Aro gTér tradition is principally concerned with transforming our experience of everyday being, rather than achieving an esoteric or spiritualized mode of existence. Our aim is to engender cheerful courage, perceptive consideration, sincere determination, natural gallantry, graciousness, creativity, and spaciousness.” (Sang-ngak-chö-dzong)