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Though needed as abbot, he was also a natural choice for the task. Though still young, he had studied dharma, the Buddhist path of discipline, for more than 20 years, with teachers at three monasteries in Tibet and India. He held the Buddhist equivalent of two Ph.Ds. He was recognized as a scholar at the highest level.
In a brief biography on the retreat center's website, Rinpoche wrote that his spiritual advisor in Tibet gave him "a very deep and insistent directive" to leave his home in the monastery and travel to the United States. Though Rinpoche knew little English, he felt he had "no alternative but to comply."
He arrived in the U.S. in 2002, and, with the help of an interpreter, began teaching Nyingma, one of the mainstream traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, wherever invited. Buddhists, like adherents to many eastern religions, do not proselytize. Rather, Westbrook says, since coming to the United States, Rinpoche has begun learning about Western religions.
"Buddha warned against sectarianism — exclusivism, the 'our way is the only way' view of other religions," Westbrook says. "The great Buddhist teachers always say sectarianism is poison. Rinpoche teaches in a very non-sectarian way."
Rinpoche's students say his English is good and getting better, but that when he teaches and wants to be very exact, he uses the services of his secretary and translator. On his website, he writes that he hopes his new work will "serve to benefit beings in this country, in Tibet, and the entire world by protecting many from suffering of body and mind, and spreading peace and happiness in all directions ... like the radiant sun that benefits us all."
Rinpoche's reputation as a clear teacher, a living example of the dharma, and an amiable fellow spread quickly. As Westbrook puts it: "I've known a lot of lamas, and I can say he's personable, highly educated, and a joy to work with. There are teachers and there are teachers. Some present the dharma in such a way that you get, not just information, but understanding. Rinpoche is one of those."
Before long, Rinpoche developed what many described to me as "a huge student base." He is the primary teacher at Buddhist groups, or sanghas, in Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Oregon and Utah, and he visits many others.
He occasionally returns to his monastery in Tibet. But, though he remains abbot there, America became Rinpoche's home upon the death of the monk who invited him here — and this is where his story joins that of the barn.
'Look at Arkansas'
Knowing that he would continue to travel and teach for many years, Rinpoche nevertheless wanted a place to settle — a place to call home. He asked two of his students in Lafayette, La., to find him a place where he could build a retreat center, and where students eventually could come to him.
He did not want it to be on either coast. He wanted mountains, but not the Rockies. Someplace with rivers and caves would be good.
"People kept saying, 'Look at Arkansas,' " one of his students recalls. Finally, the couple checked out Newton County. They'd found a piece of land they wanted to show Rinpoche.
They took him to a mountainous, wooded site with no buildings on it. The 146 acres were nestled between a bluff and a creek. A short distance away, the creek joined the Little Buffalo River. Rinpoche liked the spot at once. He especially liked its caves.
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