Experience Tibet at Chino Valley’s Garchen Institute

By Libby Sherwood
Staff Writer

Wind from the San Francisco Peaks gently bends prayer flags to the south. They flap and snap their tattered ends to the rhythm of the buzzing flies. Inviting trees shade single-person stone benches tucked beneath their branches. Colorful tiered Buddhist monuments called stupas rise toward cloudless blue skies.

Human voices rarely pierce the air at the Garchen Buddhist Institute outside of Chino Valley. Anyone can come and practice, but most of the few people that inhabit or visit the center sit erect in silent meditation, chant Tibetan mantras or pace clockwise around one of the giant stupas filled with ancient relics.

This unusual place for a Buddhist center results from years of tumultuous politics in Tibet.

For centuries, Tibet has suffered political conflict. In 1959, the Chinese exiled the Dalai Lama as a result of the nation’s struggle for independence and began wide-spread persecution of Tibetans. They killed or imprisoned thousands of monks and nuns, and destroyed over 6,000 monasteries.
Since there are very few monasteries or even Buddhist practitioners left in Tibet, many chose to move to to the west; one of them chose Chino Valley. Garchen Rinpoche, a lama who was imprisoned for 20 years during China’s Cultural Revolution, decided to transplant a piece of Tibet into the Arizona hills, and founded the Chino Valley center. Now he happily calls the U.S. home, showing off pictures of the center during his worldly travels.

The Garchen Center is one of the only Buddhist centers of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage in the U.S. It draws practitioners from around the globe and fascinates those drawn to eastern philosophies.

Regarding her two years at the center, one woman claimed, “I have really changed, from the root of my mind.”

The center is also one of three institutes in the U.S. to offer three-year retreats in which participants spend every day in quiet seclusion.

One man, after he finished his three-year retreat, built a cave just down the hill from the lama’s hut, and has remained in isolation. The center even allows people to sleep in the temple, amidst dazzling tapestries and miniature golden Buddhas.

Rinpoche encourages others to seek healing and liberation at his stupas and to practice in his temple amidst the thousands of Tibetan tokens, both physical and spiritual.

3 Responses to “Experience Tibet at Chino Valley’s Garchen Institute”
  1. Mary McKinnon says:

    Very nicely written. I hope to get back to visit someday soon.

  2. AK says:

    What are the other two institutes in the U.S. offering three year retreats?

  3. Mary McKinnon says:

    Kagyu Samten Chöling, in Barringon, New Hampshire is one. I found it by googling it. Like the one in Arizona, I suspect that only close disciples are invited to participate. Three year retreat is not splashed around lightly.

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