Rabten Choeling is one of the first Tibetan Buddhist monasteries to be established in the West after the exodus of Tibetans into India. Located 820m above sea level on Mount-Pelerin, above Lake Geneva in Vevey, Switzerland, the centre is an institute for Higher Tibetan studies and the pursuit of Tibetan Buddhist practices. At present, there are about 30 monks, 5 nuns and 20 lay students living in the centre.
Early Beginnings: Geshe Tamdrin Rabten Rinpoche
Rabten Choeling was founded by Geshe Tamdrin Rabten Rinpoche. After escaping from Tibet, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche along with Kyabje Lati Rinpoche was appointed as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s advisor on philosophical matters.
Later in 1974, at the request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Geshe Rabten moved to Switzerland to serve as the Abbot of Rikon Monastery in Tosstal. During this time, Geshe Rabten and a handful of monks lived in a rented house in the tiny hamlet of Schwendi, located 4 km from Rikon Monastery.
Geshe Rabten was an extraordinary lama, able to explain Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy with powerful clarity. Combined with his understanding of the Western mind and ideas, Geshe Rabten quickly gained a following of Western students and became the pioneer in spreading Tibetan Buddhism in Western Europe. It was also during this time that Geshe Rabten started training Westerners to become qualified Buddhist teachers in their own right.
A year and a half later, Geshe Rabten and his entourage of students moved into Le Colibri, a larger property in Mount Pelerin, which later came to be known as Tharpa Choeling. A strong and closely knit Buddhist community was formed and enthusiastic lay students began settling down in the area, each finding their own unique way to contribute to the growing Dharma community. Some studied, while others helped with the more mundane works such as administration, finances, kitchen work and even gardening.
The Geneva Group
Comprising of businessmen and industrialists, the Geneva group was led by Anne Ansermet, daughter of a famous Swiss conductor, Ernest. Coming from a privileged background, Anne was well-connected to the movers and shakers of the day, and it was this group that arranged and financed the purchase of Le Colibri. They funded the institute, put visas in passports, and provided sufficient funding for living expenses and books.
At the age of 70, Anne was drawn to Buddhism and even traveled to India to be ordained by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She was an amazing woman to whom the residents of Tharpa Choeling owed much of their spiritual pursuits. It was the hard work of Anne and her group that allowed the ordained and lay people in Tharpa Choeling to live a life of study and contemplation without having to worry about their material needs.
The Geneva group on the other hand, approved of the study programs in Tharpa Choeling, confident that their hard work, money and time were well spent, and that things were moving in the right direction to help disseminate Buddhism in the West.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Visits
In the summer of 1979, Geshe Rabten invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Switzerland. It was in Tharpa Choeling that His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave his first public teaching in the West. Under the direction of Geshe Rabten, Stephen Batchelor was placed in-charge of organizing the Dalai Lama’s visit. He was given a total budget of 30’000 Swiss Francs to prepare for a free public teaching by the Dalai Lama to accommodate 1,000 attendees.
At that time, the organizing committee’s request to the Swiss police for security forces was declined with the argument that “The Dalai Lama is not an endangered person”. On top of that, despite intensive advertising, only about 900 attendees turned up for the Dalai Lama’s teaching.
10 Years Later: H.E. Gonsar Tulku Rinpoche
H.E. Gonsar Rinpoche, one of Geshe Rabten’s closest disciples, served his teacher for 33 years until Geshe Rabten’s passing in 1986. Gonsar Rinpoche considered it his personal responsibility to continue Geshe Rabten’s works, and Tharpa Choeling was renamed to Rabten Choeling in Geshe Rabten’s memory. At present, Gonsar Rinpoche is the director of Rabten Choeling as well as other Rabten centres across Europe.
Gonsar Rinpoche also led the search for Geshe Rabten’s incarnation, Tenzin Rabgye Rinpoche. Born in India in 1987, he now lives at Rabten Choeling under the care and tutelage of Gonsar Rinpoche. In the spring of 1998, the then ten-year-old Tenzin Rabgye Rinpoche gave his first teaching in front of 200 people in Rabten Choeling.
Trijang Rinpoche and Rabten Choeling
Rabten Choeling was also host to H.H. Trijang Chocktrul Rinpoche during his younger days. Due to increasing hostility against practitioners of the dharma protector Dorje Shugden, Trijang Rinpoche, a great Dorje Shugden proponent, had received several death threats from the Secret Society of External and Internal Enemy Eliminators which forced him to relocate to Switzerland for his own safety.
Having since moved to USA and established Trijang Buddhist Institute in Vermont, Trijang Rinpoche continues to maintain close ties with Rabten Choeling, especially with Tenzin Rabgye Rinpoche and Gonsar Rinpoche.
Rabten Choeling Today
Rabten Choeling is both a monastery and an international school with students from 14 different countries. The sangha of Rabten Choeling perform daily prayers, monastic rites such as sangha confessionals, summer retreats and monthly pujas in the centre. Several guest rooms are available in the centre for retreats and for those interested to visit the monastery.
The residents of Rabten Choeling conduct prayer recitations twice a day, at 7 am and 6 pm, except during the weekends. Tsok offerings are also performed every fortnight according to the Tibetan calendar. A general class is held every Sunday, 3 pm, and several public seminars are conducted throughout the year.
Rabten Choeling Monastery
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