Ally Cheng, 13, stirs up a batch of chocolate chip cookies at the Garchen Institute.
Patricia Lamb is the director of the Garchen Institute
Chino Valley Review
Like the Beatles who chanted "We have all been here before," the Buddhist monks and nuns at the Garchen Institute in Chino Valley believe this life is merely one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, that people cycle through until reaching enlightenment.
Built in 2000, the Institute attracts visitors from around the world who come for religious teachings and silent retreats. For many, this is an exploration into a new religion. A Buddha means one who is "awakened" or enlightened.
Buddhism began with Siddhartha Gautama, who was born into a royal family and lived from 566-480 BCE, about the same time as Socrates in ancient Greece.
In 1996, John Carlton, raised Southern Baptist, (whose lineage includes a boatload of people eagerly stepping ashore in Virginia circa 1620), sat with a small group of people listening to the teachings of a Tibetan monk named Garchen Rinpoche.
After surviving 20 years imprisonment in a work camp for opposing the Chinese invasion of his country, (China has occupied Tibet since 1959), Garchen Rinpoche taught "boddhichitta," love and tolerance.
"Religion gets down to good-heartedness," said Carlton, who worked as a lawyer in Washington D. C., and now lives in Arizona. "Garchen Rinpoche has a reputation as a great saint. When I went to hear him I was extremely impressed; these were spellbinding and exquisite teachings."
After visiting Tucson, Garchen Rinpoche boarded a plane and returned to France.
Carlton felt compelled to act.
Enthused by the integrity of the many Tibetan monks he was meeting in the U.S., Carlton called France.
With the aid of translators from English to French to Tibetan and back again, he offered his 80-acre ranch outside of Prescott to Garchen Rinpoche to be used as a Buddhist center.
"The ranch was surrounded by forest and difficult to get to in high rains and snow," said Carlton. So after two years they relocated to a hilltop in Chino Valley.
A German student of Garchen Rinpoche's, a female physician, donated $2 million to construct the buildings, and the Garchen Institute was born.
Carlton recruited a couple from Tucson for the onsite management of the institute.
"I talked Kathy (Dyhr) and Bernie (Zabel) into coming up to run the place," Carlton said. "He was an engineer at the Biosphere making good money, but they agreed to do it. Yavapai County couldn't have been nicer when we were setting up the place."
The center is off the grid, running on solar power. The dirt road up is bumpy when dry and almost unapproachable with snow and ice.
What attracts people to live and work at a remote Buddhist retreat center?
"The opportunity to practice with other people who are dedicated to overcoming afflictive or negative emotions," said Director Patricia Lamb. "When you are in a supportive environment, it quickens your practice."
Five staff members, numerous volunteers, international guests, and visiting monks and nuns live at the retreat center.
Visitors are encouraged to take personal time to relax. Bring a book, make a cup of tea, and take in the vistas of the San Francisco Peaks, and the bazillion night sky stars.
"We have two retreat masters, Lama Thuben Nima and Drupon Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche. A person can apply for a few days, a month or three years of silent, solitary retreat," Lamb said. "It's not for everybody, but it's a really extraordinary experience."
The center also is available for rent. It has a dormitory, guest cottage, an industrial strength stainless steel kitchen, temple, two stupas, and a rustic campground.
Emily Webber was a student at Prescott College. Her mother, a minister in Pennsylvania, supported her daughter's transition from student to staff member, but hesitated when Emily said she was shaving her hair to become a nun. Garchen Rinpoche required her parents' consent, and after a family huddle they agreed.
"I just really fell in love with the place. It made so much sense to me to create a better world by starting from what is inside of us rather than outside," Webber said. "As staff members our primary goal is to work for the center. I came here to work. I've helped manage the book store, the web store, coordinate the volunteers, and manage the kitchen."
The Tibetans are the most recent arrivals here.
"Buddhists are just like everyone else. There's really no difference. In my view everyone is trying to be a better person, everyone is trying to do something that is beneficial for the world. As Buddhists we start inside and work out. But it's not some weird thing; it's just common sense. Just do what's right, be a good person, be kind."
Garchen Rinpoche, now a U.S. citizen, has made Chino Valley his North American home. At 78, he keeps a global itinerary.
The Garchen Institute welcomes visitors daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5. Call 928-925-1237 email email@example.com, or visit www.garchen.net. "We welcome visitors," said lamb. "We just need advance notice if you want a tour."