The Buddha taught that opening gompas (prayer halls) and Dharma centres, and rebuilding old ones is a tremendously powerful way to generate good merit. The presence of a gompa is enormously beneficial for its immediate surroundings, the country, region and the world at large. Why? It is not so much the building itself (after all, that is really only brick and mortar!) but what it signifies. Symbolising the flourishing of spirituality, a gompa is a place for people to learn and meditate, and to contemplate on the Dharma that is conveyed there.
There are few events as memorable in a Buddhist organisation’s history, as the offering of an entire prayer hall to the spiritual guide and for this, 27 November 2010 will be a day forever remembered in Kechara’s history.
It was a night where 630 people gathered to mark the start of a brand new chapter in Kechara’s history. It was celebrated in the usual Kechara style, with traffic flow down Jalan Kechara blocked off to provide ample space for the grand marquee erected for the occasion. Ushered in by graceful dakinis, the air-conditioned marquee was a swanky setting for guests and members to mingle over some mocktails and canapés courtesy of Kechara Oasis.
The marquee also provided the perfect base for guests to pop in and out of the newly-opened Kechara Care gallery. Totally conceptualised and designed by Kechara members, the gallery is a wonderful visual history of Kechara’s background and humble beginnings. It begins from His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche’s birth, and goes right up to his vision for the future, Kechara World Peace Centre.
The gallery provided the perfect opportunity for members to talk about the organisation they call home. Kechara, in fact, refers to Vajrayogini’s heaven and in a nod towards the direction the organisation is moving, our very own Margaret Lee made an offering of a performance of the Vajrayogini dance. Performed live for the very first time in Malaysia, Margaret’s set was the start of many more cultural performances, including a Tibetan cultural dance and candle dance choreographed by Mr Woon Fook Sen and Ms Chan Soo Leng of Legend of the Conch Shell fame.
It was to the sound of longhorns and smell of fragrant incense that Rinpoche arrived to officiate the event, and to accept the offering of the gompa. Stepping onto flower petals and shaded by a golden parasol, Rinpoche recited auspicious prayers before cutting the ribbon, as a flood of spotlights lit a giant portrait of Rinpoche gracing the front of the new gompa.
Over the cut ribbon, and as an auspicious light rain began to fall, guests filed into the gompa for the very first time, gasping in sheer admiration for the wonderful minimalist architecture that the Kechara House Gompa Committee had so successfully designed for the new prayer hall.
With the new gompa, gone are the days when large gatherings of Kechara members and friends had to squeeze in to receive the Dharma. Instead, in this new prayer hall, Datuk May Phng (President of Kechara House) was able to invite guests to be seated comfortably. Explaining that the gompa is an offering by the students to Rinpoche, Datuk May said that the purpose of the new prayer hall was for Rinpoche to continue turning the wheel of Dharma, and for us to benefit by receiving the teachings.
At the core of Rinpoche’s teachings is the practice of Dharma in action, where it is not enough to just sit and receive teachings and meditate. From the knowledge we gain, we should practise what we preach, starting from being more kind and concerned about others. In his Dharma talk after Datuk May’s speech, Rinpoche reminded us that when we leave the gompa, we must be better people as a demonstration of our spirituality.
In fact, the night may have begun with a beautiful marquee, great food and a wonderful modern gallery but the most traditional part of the evening began soon after Datuk May’s speech, when Rinpoche entered the gompa. After performing three prostrations to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s throne, Rinpoche took his seat on the central throne. It was then that, on behalf of the Kechara organisation, Datuk May made offerings of body, speech and mind to Rinpoche, signifying our request for him to turn the wheel of Dharma.
Rinpoche also accepted a full set of keys to the gompa, and signed the commemorative plaque before giving a short discourse. Speaking on the universality of religion, Rinpoche said it does not matter what faith or sect we belong to. If we claim to be a religious person, then we must apply what our respective faith teaches and become more kind, forgiving and compassionate, creating harmony, happiness and acceptance wherever we go.
The best religious person we can ever be is to have compassion with no agenda, to genuinely care for another being without expecting anything back, to be tolerant and forgiving of others. In this way, Rinpoche said, religion can create a big beneficial contribution to humankind. Giving without agenda is the basis for Kechara’s work and the best way to demonstrate our commitment to this is via our 12 departments…made 13 on the night when Rinpoche announced the happy news of approval by the Malaysian authorities for us to open Kechara Animal Sanctuary.
Amongst those in the congregation receiving the good news were Y. Bhg. Datuk Dr Victor Wee, who is the Chairman of Tourism Malaysia and kind patron of Kechara Soup Kitchen. Kechara were also fortunate enough to receive esteemed sangha member Ven. B. Sri Saranakara, the Chief Monk from the Sentul Temple, as well as Datin Paduka Mother Mangalam Iyaswamy Iyer, the co-founder and president of the Pure Life Society.
In attendance also were Her Excellency Maria Isabel Rendon, the Argentine Ambassador to Malaysia as well as Ms Anne Woo, formerly of the Nanyang Foundation.
Seated near Ms Woo was Dato’ Eric Tan, one of Rinpoche’s supporters from his early days in South East Asia, when he was giving Dharma teachings in Singapore. The event became even more of a trip down memory lane with Mama How and Papa How seen in the crowd – this lovely couple provided Rinpoche with his first home in Malaysia, and opened their house to guests coming to receive Rinpoche’s blessings.
Both Dato’ Eric and the Hows may have known Rinpoche since 1992, but no one has known him longer than his very own Aunt Matza and cousin Sara. Flying in specially from the USA to witness the historic occasion of the gompa opening, Aunt Matza and Sara watched the little boy they once knew receive a full set of keys to the gompa. It was Aunt Matza who offered Rinpoche sanctuary from a difficult childhood and home life, and Sara who kept in touch with Rinpoche for the past 30 years. It may have been three decades since they last met, but their deeds have not been forgotten and they were there to witness the commencement of a new chapter in the annals of Kechara House.
The new Kechara gompa caps off a wonderful decade of achievements by the Kechara organisation, and propels us into a new decade of more growth and expansion. Rinpoche began giving teachings from people’s houses, then from an upstairs shoplot in SS2, before moving into Kechara House 1 in 2001. Who would have thought that a young monk arriving in Malaysia in 1992 with just two suitcases would one day be the spiritual guide of 13 departments (and counting!)…
Then again, after all, as Rinpoche always says, you only need one person, committed to the vision of benefiting others, to see the start of something big…