Tharpa Choeling — high in the Tibetan Alps

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Some former monks have asked that their names and photos be removed in order to conceal their past or dissociate it from the somewhat skeptical views presented on this website. Since this page contains no personal comments, libellous or otherwise, and the pictures are in the public domain, I’ve declined all such requests.

The following account was extracted from early drafts of Schettini's memoir, The Novice.

In the early 1970s, at the Dalai Lama’s request, Geshe Tamdrin Rabten started training Westerners in Switzerland to become teachers. Among them, a handful of monks lived in a rented house in the tiny hamlet of Schwendi, about four kilometres from Rikon monastery in Tösstal. I was one of them. We all studied hard, excited by our prospects under the guidance of Geshe Rabten. About a year and a half later the monks moved into a large property in Mont Pélérin, and we became an institution. Our days of splendid isolation were over.

Lay people of our own age and enthusiasm moved nearby. Veterans from India and new recruits alike, those with families and those without, honed in on our community and its local satellites. Everyone found ways to express their own commitment. Some studied, others helped in the administration or financing, some worked in the kitchen or garden. Everyone contributed to the growth of a community, and the glue at the hub of this wheel was Geshe Rabten. The monks encircling him held a lesser but more personal attraction for lay people from all walks of life. Most respected of all were the studious, and the core group from Schwendi were the stars.

The purchase of Le Colibri, as the building was named, was arranged and financed by a Geneva group led by Anne Ansermet, daughter of the famous Swiss conductor Ernest. She’d grown up privileged, knew the back rooms of power and could get things done. Drawn to Buddhism at the age of seventy, she’d traveled to India and been ordained by the Dalai Lama himself; no one else would do. Other members of the fundraising group were business people and industrialists. It can’t have been a simple matter in the staid Swiss canton of Vaud to set up a Tibetan Buddhist monastery for foreign ex-hippies with no income. In time, our neighbors accepted us, especially once they realized we weren’t dangerous fanatics. We were generally referred to as ‘Le culte,’ but provoked more laughter than terror. We were sometimes mistaken for Hari Krishna devotees.

Anne Ansermet was an energetic, imperious force to whom we owed the privilege of our unfettered lifestyle. The Geneva Group put a roof over our heads and visas in our passports. Individual sponsors provided sufficient funds for food and books, and we gave ourselves up to a life of study and contemplation without the slightest material worry.

Our sponsors looked upon our studies approvingly, confident their money and time were well spent and sure that we in turn would help disseminate Buddhism in the West. It would be fascinating to know what they’d make today of the less than orthodox Stephen Batchelor, the strenuously orthodox Alan Wallace and the quite heterodox author of this website, who’s been asked on more than one occasion how on Earth the other two ever shared a room in the cramped confines of Schwendi-22 (see first paragraph).

 

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