In the Breton forest, Tibetan Buddhism shines

- through Henry Oudin

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In the heart of Brittany, the Drukpa lineage of Vajrayana – incorrectly called Tibetan Buddhism – established its European center in 1985. Under the direction of the Bhutanese Drubpön Ngawang, seven monastics, helped by several lay people, bring this haven of tranquility to life. The monastery of Plouray (Morbihan) attracts hundreds of people when the great masters come.

A small road winding through the forest leads to the old restored farmhouse, the starting point of the adventure. Three yoga teachers are behind it. Their meeting, in the 80s with Kyabjé Touksé Rinpoché, grand master of the Drukpa lineage, in Sainte-Agnès (Alpes Maritimes) forever orients their lives differently. One of the three Bretons offers to put his farm at the disposal of the line. Touksé Rinpoché accepts and then begins the installation of the monastery. Upon the death of the Grand Master, his successor, His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, sent his disciple Drubpön Ngawang Tenzin to Europe, and Plouray became the center of the lineage on the continent.

Drübpon Ngawang remembers his arrival in France at the age of 35. “We had very few means, the Westerners of the time had a conception of Buddhism very far from that of today. Familiarizing myself with new mentalities has been an integral part of my practice”. The master from Bhutan is used to meeting challenges, his mission is taking shape little by little. Masters come to teach in Plouray and the faithful of the monastery help to build the elements that constitute it today. Thus, under his direction and in the presence of His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa and his father, Kyabje Bairo Rinpoche, the “Auspicious Doors Stupa” was consecrated in 1997; then in 2003, it is the opening of the temple; the prayer wheel has been completed since 2008; finally, the construction of the Meditation Garden began in the early 2000s. The place now has seven houses and a second temple, the Lama Lhakhang, which was inaugurated in 2017, after five years of construction.

Before Dharma, work

The first nun of Plouray, Aniela, now a hundred years old, resides in the town's retirement home. Following his path, three monks and four nuns now bring spiritual life to the centre, recognized in 2004 as a religious congregation, under the name of “Pel Drukpay Tcheutsok”. They are accompanied by three lay residents.

Jigmé Puntsok, 57, is the oldest resident. The monk, identifiable by his vast shawl, his skirt and his burgundy colored headgear, knew the place at the beginning, in 1994. wouldn't have believed it," he said. In the 80s, he often stayed in India, for a humanitarian association helping Tibetan refugees. Although distant vis-à-vis religions, he had the opportunity to attend a teaching by the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala in 1992. Impressed, he devours several books on Buddhism, before meeting His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, in Paris, in 1995. “From there, there was no alternative: it was to become a monk or nothing”. For ten years, he nevertheless worked six months out of twelve in Rennes, but returned to the center every weekend, before becoming a permanent resident in 2008. As such, he built his own accommodation.

The abilities of Westerners are no different from those of Asians. It is not necessary to adapt the practice of meditation. It keeps the tradition pure. » Drübpon Ngawang

Venerable Drubpön Ngawang, who knows how “important it is to take responsibility socially and financially”, asks the residents to work. “He knows the Western environment and knows that it is necessary,” adds Laëtitia. This 35-year-old laywoman has lived in Plouray for five years. Native of Trébeurden (Côtes-d'Armor), she works during the week for an export company. In her free time, as a volunteer secretary, she notably coordinates Drubpön Ngawang's trips to Europe as well as relations with other centers.

Monastic life is intended to be pragmatic, in Plouray. “You can go out shopping, swimming, go see your family,” explains Jigmé Puntsok. From now on, the monk devotes a lot of time to the practice of meditation: “The transformation of the mind is also done by living with others. You have to know how to manage your emotions. Developing kindness and compassion should not be confined to theory, it must be put into practice. »

A place dedicated to peace

Five dwellings welcome the retreatants. Including the dormitories and the houses of the Meditation Garden, the center has a capacity of a hundred beds. During major events, the monastery can attract large crowds. This was the case during the visit of the Dalai Lama, in 2008, or for the 49 days of ceremony following the death of Kyabje Bairo Rinpoche, in 2017.

Around the monastery which extends over 15 hectares in the heart of the forest, some faithful or friends have bought 150 hectares of land to avoid any form of nuisance. “Temporary residents, explains Jigmé Puntsok, find calm there to practice or write a thesis or a book”. Walking through the site, the songs of the birds or the sound of the wind in the trees are disturbed only by the ringing of the prayer wheel.

“We live in an idyllic area. Even non-Buddhists leave here transformed,” says Shérab Drölma, a 74-year-old nun, who remembers her first visit to Plouray in 2003 with her brother. She had heard of the center two years earlier through a monk from Morbihan, retired in the Cévennes. After welcoming the Karma Migyur Ling congregation in the Vercors, she quickly returned to Brittany to replace Aniela as steward. The day after his 60th birthday, on May 27, 2005, Shérab Drölma took refuge with His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, in Plouray, which definitely became his home. Why choose a life of renunciation? The nun, who wanted to become a Catholic nun at the age of 12, before following other paths, “always thought that human beings were perfectible”.

At the center, in addition to practice and study, she has been in charge of the shop since 2005 and gives lectures every other month, alternating with Drübpon Ngawang. After thirty years spent in France, the superior remarks that “the capacities of Westerners are not different from those of Asians. It is not necessary to adapt the practice of meditation. It allows us to keep the tradition pure, ”he rejoices.

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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