First and foremost it is a Buddhist centre.
It was born in the hearts of the people who had a great wish to learn and practice Buddha’s path.
However, there is no great kingdom without a great king and there is no real Buddhist centre without an authentic teacher. Thanks to surprising and auspicious coincidences Patrul Rinpoche came to Belgium and thanks to the generosity of the few people who surrounded him this property was bought and Dharma City came to existence.
It is still being renovated, still being improved but it has grown to a mainly sustainable place that gives home to a few Buddhists as well as healthy entertainement and the possibility for personal development to numerous Buddhists and non-Buddhists.
Dharma City is a place where many events take place. There are regular Dharma courses for beginners and advanced students, there are non-Buddhist courses like yoga or relaxation organized by people who rent a place.
Dharma City is also a Tea House, a Bio-Shop and B&B.
A Tea House developed into a fantastic vegetarian restaurant where the unusual menu can be a delicious adventure for all avid foodies. Bio-Shop was born as Tea House’s child because chefs and cooks constantly tried to find organic products for their original recipes.
All income comes back to the original cause for creating this place. The money is being used to develop this wonderful centre further and to make Buddhist courses available to rich and poor.
This place is a peaceful cave in the hectic world. It directs your mind to what is valuable and important. If you wish to calm down and look within, it might be the right place for you too.
History: How it all began –
conception and baby stage
“It all started somewhere in 2006 when Rinpoche expressed his wish to find a place for all Dharma activities that could be an international Buddhist centre. The first thing that we visited was a place in Namur (Belgium) but it was too cold and just not right. We searched on the web and in October 2006 we found this place. We thought something more isolated would be better but when Rinpoche saw it, he immediately liked it. In the middle of one of the winter retreats we went to see it and Rinpoche was very happy about the place. We managed to purchase Dharma City on 13 January 2007. However, as we did not check the boundaries carefully we thought we bought more land than we actually did.
On 24 April 2007 we finally bought the place formally. We had a lot of work to do to prepare the summer course. As it had been a farm with animals before, there were loads of work to be done.
When you have to do things quickly, things become expensive. There were not enough volunteers, we had to pay a lot for materials and working staff. We made the kitchen and the dining room, we organized the main temple where we had to put a simple floor, a tent, and some windows, we needed to exchange the roof between the two towers and much more. It was hard work and it was far more expensive than we had expected.
For the summer 2007 Dharma City was ready to have a course. There was a big tent in the gompa, and we had simple toilets and showers.
We put a lot of effort to get permission to renovate further. We wanted to make proper dormitories and nice rooms that could work as a hostel. Our struggle was a nightmare. Our files were refused several times. Not much was done during the two or three following years as we were not allowed legally to renovate neither the right nor the left wing of the building and we got stuck in offices and papers in Belgium. At some point we asked a group of architects for help, they managed to get some permit, but the cost was beyond our reach. All in all, we couldn’t go forward.
In 2012, to be precise 22 January, different people took over with a completely new approach. It was Yura, Bocian and others who played a crucial role. They just started working in this place following direct instructions of Rinpoche and followed his commands word by word. During that time legal regulations changed: all renovations were accepted and permits were miraculously granted. Irene Grundel was very good at talking to community officials and things started to be more favourable to our centre. Rinpoche found a new way to deal with things and thanks to the efforts of many people we succeeded. In September 2016 Dharma City was inaugurated.”
Recollected by Matthieu
Rinpoche had a vision for this place
“Before I came to Dharma City, which was about 2012, Anne-Marie and René used to live there and it was them who endured most of the hardships. They were just by themselves.
I remember that some days, when it was raining, the water was flooding the dining room and sometimes there was about 10cm of water on the floor. We also had to organize to take a shower in pairs as the water was not running when there were less taps open.
However, the most surprising thing for me was the story with the Tibetan tent that was used in the gompa to protect us from the birds’ droppings. The tent was ordered when we were in Poland. It was supposed to be used for the first or the second year of the shedra but we finally rented a venue and did not use it. But once we put it up in Dharma City it occurred that it was the perfect size for the space of the gompa – just as if measured for it. I was wondering how Rinpoche had known the size of this gompa as Dharma City hadn’t been bought by then.
I remember Irina turned up and we started to cook for the students. I was a purchaser. Then Rinpoche wanted to renovate. We started with what is the Tea House now. First the walls, floors, then the toilets next to it. It was just the beginning. Rinpoche had a vision for the place.
We announced the project of Tisha Rooms. The idea was that people offered the money in advance to build a room in a guest house, and in return they could use the room later for a particular number of nights during the following years. People liked the project. The conditions for the students were much better after some time and they did not have to rent a place outside the Buddhist centre. It was a reasonable and promising idea.
Yura was the person who got down to work first and inspired others. We took down the rests of existing walls and general construction of things that used to be barns, chicken houses and sheds to store whatever. Lopön Tsering Gönpo and Lopön Jampa worked physically very hard with us, obviously Rinpoche as well as he was the big boss. Both wings of the building had holes in the roofs so you could have admired the sky easily. The whole building was in a very bad condition and needed total renovation. We kept all safety measures and progressed with work. The old barn progressively took the shape of a temple with everyone’s joined efforts.
Fortunatelly, volunteers turned up. Many Tibetans helped. We put a lot of effort to use the money wisely. I managed that. Rinpoche worked physically very hard with us, e.g. cutting concrete with a saw or doing a lot of precise jobs too. We managed to build a steel construction for a concrete slab floor and succeeded with pouring concrete. The first floor and the gompa ceiling was Rinpoche’s own idea. The work was very primitive as we mixed concrete by spades, not machines, and poured it with buckets. Most was done one night and everybody worked like crazy. Miraculously, all worked very well.
The Dharma City yard looks great now as we reused the old bricks and put effort to keep the old style. Rinpoche was the main supervisor and I can easily say that all this building site is his own creation. It was a big success and work of many people.
Then Tony, a professional electrician from England, renewed all electricity system putting new cables, plugs and so on. It was a significant thing. We needed to keep all the Belgium standards and Tony’s help was a tremendous help.
We managed to build the rooms on both right and left sides of the building. These rooms work mainly for the students today and are still being finished. We completed two or three rooms to rent as guest rooms together with tea house services. Chloe and Yura spent a lot of effort to organize the Tea House, make it cosy and modern. Chloe developed the idea of a bio shop. They were both very dedicated to the project.
Rinpoche inspired people to work and he worked himself. What is amazing, he was the best digger operator we have ever had. Yura was very good too but nobody was as good as Rinpoche. We flattened the entrance yard and made concrete paths, planted trees, bushes and grass.
Later, we made two wings of the gompa creating rooms for lamas and the new kitchen. Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche was the first one to use the Lamas’ rooms during his visit to Dharma City in 2014.
We prepared Patrul Rinpoche’s flat, which is actually very small – two rooms only, but it was his own choice to have it so small.
Rinpoche supervised all the projects. As long as we were doing exactly what Rinpoche was saying all went well.
There were not this kind of mistakes that regularly happen on building sites like when something cracks, breaks or even collapses. Everything Rinpoche supervised was completed with success.
Narrated by Bocian
So much has been done by volunteers…
“In July 2007, Patrul Rinpoche held his first General Buddhist Course in Dharma City. The course was held in the Wisdom Treasury office. Everything was still to be done, a team of Tibetans were also there to help.
I had not signed up for the course, so I helped with the Tibetan volunteers. The space called business room consisted of two floors but not the whole room. There was thick dust on the floor and ceiling. We had a week to clean up because later that month a new cycle of students would arrive, and this space would be used as a dormitory.
I felt happy and fortunate to participate in the morning and evening group practices and to be a chant leader.
At that time, we only had one tiny bathroom (which no longer exists), with a toilet, a shower and a sink.
The courtyard was full of soil, over which gravel was thrown and a concrete path was made.
The room that is now the tearoom was used as a dining room.
The most difficult thing was to clean the walls of the big gompa (temple).
The walls are so high that we had to attach broomsticks one to the other to get as high as possible. We finished on the last day of the course.
I stayed to help when the new group (108) arrived. Most of the students were from Russia. I was given the role of ‘secretary’ and it was an opportunity for me to develop these skills.
One group was removing plaster from the walls leading to the business room, the business room itself and the room next door. Another group was cleaning the bricks that were to be reused later. Then we cleaned the left wing as you enter Dharma City, installed six toilets and six showers and laid concrete.
The hot water came from a water heater and the amount of hot water was limited. If someone had taken a shower during the night and another person wanted to take it in the morning, that person was left with cold water because the water had not had time to heat up. Sometimes the water heater would just stop and in the middle of the shower, and even when fully soaped you would find yourself with very cold water, so you would shout hoping that someone would turn the heater back on.
Since then, Dharma City has changed a lot. The temple has two floors. In the two side wings there are spacious rooms that can be rented as bed and breakfast, others are rented to students of the international Sangha for events such as shedra, drupchen, general Buddhist study…
There is a tearoom where it is possible to eat vegetarian food, enjoy teas and delicious cakes.
To tell you a bit about the history of the temple
In the beginning it was a huge barn. During the classes the pigeons would spray us with their generous droppings. At first, we put up a Tibetan tent, then one day we fixed a tarpaulin which covered the whole surface. Finally, we were able to make a ceiling. At first, we put carpets on the floor. Now we have parquet.
Year after year, our comfort has improved. But not all the projects are finished yet.
And I wish we could achieve that.”
Written by Vie
From a barn to a treasure trove of wisdom
“First we travelled with Rinpoche whenever he was teaching but that wasn’t easy. The first two years of the shedra took place in Poland. Many people complained about accommodation standards and food there only because they did not know what was coming 😊…
The third year of the shedra summer course of the first cycle took place in Dharma City. Many people slept in tents, some in very uncomfortable spaces, some rented a place outside the centre. The toilets were extremely basic where you could hear your neighbours’ efforts clearly and the queues to them during teaching breaks were extreme. Hot water was limited. It was a challenge for us westerners. Food, on the contrary, was always excellent. As far as I remember Dawa, our Tibetan friend was a chef. He was great.
The gompa was very simple but nice. They put some planks on the ground and carpets so when the weather was good it was fine for me. There were beautiful thangkas hanging here and there and what was crucial—there was our teacher. We enthusiastically believed that one day this place would shine with glory.
Things had been done quickly before the course and they broke down constantly. René was running here and there all the time. People who knew how to fix things were busy day and night.
During the breaks, instead of resting, many people volunteered: they cleaned the bricks that were to be reused, they transported soil or rocks, dug something, cleaned, moved things.
We were all very happy to be there, but it was far from what you can imagine as a nice summer holiday stay.
The centre was bought and it needed a lot of work and money. Courses were extremely expensive, I mean definitely for us, students from Poland. The Belgium building law and bureaucracy had been hard to imagine before we experienced struggling with it. Matthieu was in charge. He put a lot of effort fighting it.
During winter the place could not stay empty and cold. Anne-Marie and René were very kind to agree to live there. The place was harsh. It was cold, dark and lacking comfort. Taking into consideration that they were not in their twenties – it was brave and heroic of them to stay in Dharma City.
One year Rinpoche organised the “Altruistic Activity Retreat” where people came mainly to work. Walls were built, plaster put on walls, simple floors done. Work was progressing nicely. This trend continued even when the course finished. Yura took over the organisation and Bocian came to organise the building process practically.
It has always been Rinpoche’s vision that the place should also work in a way to generate some income. From the very beginning Rinpoche mentioned the idea of a Tea House but all that was possible only much later.
The restaurant, bed and breakfast, bio shop and other projects generate enough profit so that the courses are financially accessible for people of various financial backgrounds.
The place is comfortable and beautiful. The gompa is amazing and it is great to study there. Dormitories are absolutely fine and the facilities are amazing!
It is fun to be there.
Hope I can spend more time there 😊”