1995 – Helgenæs found and inaugurated
Inge Lisbeth Sørensen
The first Cloudless Summer Camp in Samsø in ‘94 really inspired us to look for a piece of land in a nice remote area in Denmark. A place in Europe, where we as Dharma sisters and brothers could meet with Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche to receive his inspiration and precious teachings – and meet all year around to train in retreat; a place which could be the framework for expanding the tradition which Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche uphold – the Chokling Tersar.
In the early spring of ‘95 we got a hint to go to Helgenæs – a small peninsula in Denmark and look at an old deserted farm at the foot of Tornbjerg, “Thorn Mountain”. A small group went – and came back full of enthusiasm. All agreed that the right place was found – the location was fantastic, the farmland full of possibilities with rolling hills, a beautiful open view to the sea and an old apple orchard with a peaceful and undisturbed life of deer and other animals. The farmhouse seemed to have been left years ago. Nettles, hawthorn and thicket of brambles covered the courtyard and the buildings.
We sent a description and photos to Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche in Nepal to ask for his advice and he agreed. “Thorn Mountain Farm” was a good place and Rinpoche named it Pal Rangjung Yeshe Kyi Gomdé – “The Retreat Land of Self-Existing Wakefulness”. But some obstacles were in front of us before the place would belong to the Sangha: the contract with the owner, raising money for the down payment and, last but not least, restoring the old buildings and turning them in to suitable buildings for retreats, summer camps and the habitat for a group of “pioneers”, who had agreed to be the first inhabitants of Gomdé.
An old gardener owned the land, who was open to a bargain. However, the house was rented to another man and he was the legal inhabitant of the house as long as he wanted to stay. It was our luck that, when we after some research found the man, it emerged that he and his family actually had given up living at “Thorn Mountain Farm”. As in the fairytale of Sleeping Beauty, the trees, scrub and the thicket had taken over and the work needed to keep the farm and apple orchard had become too much for him. He was happy to leave immediately.
Now it was a question of fundraising. A foundation was established, as we wished the coming retreat land to be an independent and “self-owned” institution protected by Danish law to ensure the place for coming generations. This foundation became the owner of Rangjung Yeshe Gomdé on June 15, which also was the yearly anniversary day of Chokling Tersar. Rinpoche appointed five people (Thomas Doctor, Andreas Doctor, Erik Pema Kunsang, Mads Julius Nielsen and an external lawyer) to the board. In the coming weeks and months, the foundation got several sponsors from all over the world representing among others Brazil, the US, Nepal, Norway, Denmark, Cuba, France, Russia and Germany. In return, the sponsors were offered a partial “right of use” to cabins and rooms, which were on the drawing board.
While the local Sangha, with great help from Erik Pema, Danny and Tara Goleman, fought the bushes, cut the nettles and captured the buildings, another group of engineers, architects and handymen created sketches for future buildings to be discussed and approved upon Rinpoche’s arrival later that summer.
During the official opening on July 12, the sun was shining from – of course – a cloudless sky! It was with a sense of warmth, thankfulness and pride that everyone who had been working so hard during the last month welcomed Sangha, friends, family and neighbours to the inauguration ceremony in the morning at the top of “Thorn Mountain”. Before entering the “mountain”, milk with honey from the local area was served to all the guests.
Rinpoche inaugurated the retreat land with the cleansing smoke ceremony and a beautiful talk, where he told, that he wished the Dharma to be spread in all direction from this place. He told how everyone – the close Sangha, friends, neighbours and even animals connecting with the place and living in the area – would feel the blessing of the Dharma. In the afternoon, a lunch banquet was served in the courtyard. Rinpoche gave blessings, handshakes and hugs to all participants individually and the day ended beautifully with singing and entertainment.
Two days before Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche had arrived and a welcome committee had showed him around the retreat land on a decorated horse. We were very honoured and grateful that he agreed on the plans of the foundation. We had arranged and decorated the most livable room for Rinpoche to stay in with thankas, flowers, brocade and a small altar. Though it was very primitive and different from what we would like to offer Rinpoche, he seemed to feel right at home. In the main house, we had placed a coach covered with beautiful brocade as Rinpoche’s throne. Here we received his teachings, good advice and instruction. Rinpoche told us that the first building to be restored was the barn, which should be turned into a temple hall. Rinpoche’s wish was to give a clear sign that this place was a place of the Dharma. He also told us that the temple hall and the surroundings should be ready to house Cloudless Summer Seminar ‘96 with 80-100 people. The tradition of Cloudless Summer Camp at Gomdé had begun.
As Gomdé started from scratch we really appreciated all the gifts and useful things people donated: tools, building materials, shelves, mattresses, curtains, tablecloths, furniture, kitchenware, utensils – and not least good wishes, knowledge as handywomen and -men and working power which for many years was and still is so important for the good spirit and harmony at Gomdé.
The day after the inauguration ceremony we all left for the island Samsø, three hours away from Gomdé, where the old boarding house “Onsbjerg Pension” as the year before was rented as the setting for Cloudless Summer Camp ‘95.
Eighty members from Rinpoche’s Sangha all over the world were gathered for ten days and received teaching on base, path and fruition of the Three Yanas as well as on the short essential text on Dzogchen/ Mahamudra. The teachings were intermingled with guided sessions of meditation with Rinpoche, which gave the students personal experience of the teachings as they progressed.
After Samsø and before leaving Denmark, Rinpoche visited Gomdé once again to give his blessing and pass on the last instructions for the coming year of building and restoring the retreat land.
A small group of six Dharma friends (René Kimose, Mikael Bonde, Morten Røgild, Claus Kjær, Tom Nygaard and Inge Lisbeth Sørensen) moved in at Gomdé this year to be the first “pioneers”. We rented the rooms and space from the foundation to make it possible for Gomdé to finance the monthly payment of the house and land during the first years. As there were only two rooms besides the living room in the main house we made arrangements for ourselves in the loft between the beams and in rebuilt caravans. All leisure hours were spent working at Gomdé. Everybody in the group had different professional skills, which were useful in the building process of the retreat land, the development and administration of the foundation and the organisation of the summer camps. It was hard work – but also lot of fun and great team play. As the money to buy building materials and coal for the old heater was very small, we decided to “free” the old apple orchard, which that year gave plenty of fruit though each tree was totally overgrown with scrub and almost impossible to enter. With great help and advice from the neighbours, we studied the seasoning of the many different old sorts and how to handle and harvest the apples. We were really happy and proud, when the tractor – the old red Massey Fergusson – was bought for money earned from picking and selling the apples to local stores.
In the autumn of ‘95 and during the winter, the temple room was build. Many stayed with us for shorter or longer periods to help with the building that year. David came from the US and became the “house – constructor”. Not only the temple hall should be ready – toilets, showers and kitchen facilities for 80-100 people were necessary as well, if “Thorn Mountain Farm” was to become the Rangjung Yeshe Retreat land we all were wishing for.