Rigpa Germany (Rigpa Deutschland)
When His Holiness the Dalai Lama conferred the Kalachakra empowerment in Switzerland in 1985, Sogyal Rinpoche gave a public talk that helped to make him more widely known to German-speaking audiences. Back then he would give talks in a church, and these were becoming increasingly popular. In the same year, on the recommendation of the German psychotherapist Werner Nowotny, Rinpoche also appeared as a speaker at a conference entitled 'Birth and Death' in Todtmoos. Many people expressed an interest in the possibility of Rinpoche coming to Germany again.
Just a few months later, in April 1986, it happened. The German-based US artist Dorothy Iannone organized an event with the Buddhist Society in Berlin. The talk attracted such a large crowd that an additional date was quickly scheduled at 'Ruine de Künste', and the venue was packed. After the talks in Berlin, Sogyal Rinpoche went on to speak in Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Munich, and, at the invitation of the Aryatara-Institute, gave a seminar in Jägendorf.
Wherever Rinpoche spoke, people were deeply touched. When he talked about a retreat in the Pyrenees where practice for world peace would be done, his German audience listened intently. In the summer of 1986, a noticeable number of Germans attended the retreat in France. Following the event, Werner Nowotny, on whose recommendation just a year earlier Rinpoche had been invited to Todtmoos, and Eva Janssen, his friend from university, drove Sogyal Rinpoche to Italy. Eva asked Rinpoche when he could find time for a longer retreat in Germany. Rinpoche checked his diary and replied: "There's an opening between Christmas and 6 January."
With that, the Kirchheim retreat was born: a retreat that would become one of the main events for the German sangha for the next 25 years, attracting international audiences from the very beginning. The very first Kirchheim retreat was attended by several hundred people. Soon after, the first informal Rigpa groups emerged in many German cities.
On October 15 1987, Sogyal Rinpoche and a group of about 35 people sealed the founding of Rigpa e.V. with a tsok practice in Munich. In those days, people in several cities would meet regularly in living rooms, rented venues, or even occasionally in an allotment garden to practise and study together.
When The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying was published in the USA and the UK in 1992, followed by Germany and France in 1993, the demand for Buddhist courses and teachings by Sogyal Rinpoche increased dramatically. Rinpoche responded by developing a study and practice programme to serve beginners and advanced students alike. For the first time, older students were trained to hold practice courses and present the Dharma.
Additionally, Rigpa e.V. engaged in various other activities. In November 1996, at Rinpoche's suggestion, the association, led by Doris Wolter, hosted an inter-religious conference on 'Dying, Death and Living,' in Germering near Munich. For the first time in Europe, under the patronage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, representatives of Christianity and Buddhism came together to discuss spiritual end-of-life care. Another patron of the congress was Dame Cicely-Saunders, who, together with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, is considered the founder of the modern hospice movement and palliative medicine.
Right from the very beginning of his work in Germany, Rinpoche advocated a better understanding and more awareness in dealing with death and dying. In 1998, his student Christine Longaker held a seminar close to Munich on the topic of end-of-life care, and she has been returning to Germany ever since.
Because of the steadily growing interest in Tibetan Buddhism and the work of Sogyal Rinpoche, Rigpa has been an ever-changing organization. The millenium retreat in Kirchheim had 1,300 participants and remains the biggest ever Rigpa retreat in Germany. "It pushed us to the edge of our capacity and showed us that we needed more professional support and more helping hands," remembers Doris Wolter, who was the first managing director of Rigpa Germany. Advice on the organization of Rigpa also came from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In September 2000, His Holiness spent nine days at Lerab Ling, Rigpa's retreat centre in southern France. Twelve thousand people gathered to hear him teach on the Larzac plateau at Lerab Gar. "With the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the work of many years has come to fruition," Sogyal Rinpoche explained at the Kirchheim retreat of 2000-01. "The Rigpa sangha has reached a new level. It is now a crucial contributor in bringing the Dharma to the West."
August 2006 saw the beginning of the Three Year Retreat at Lerab Ling. Many of the German sangha members participated, either by staying at Lerab Ling or through the Home Retreat. Rinpoche had made it possible for western practitioners to follow an authentic three-year retreat and to do retreat at home.
While Rigpa worldwide was focused in the Three Year Retreat, a new city centre was evolving in Berlin—Dharma Mati—with an in-house spiritual community that was beginning the process of establishing itself. The grand opening took place in October 2007, with a five-day retreat led by Sogyal Rinpoche. At the end of 2011, 25 years after the first Kirchheim retreat, Rigpa Germany was the main host for a world premiere event. Based in Australia, Sogyal Rinpoche led his first interactive retreat via video streaming, together with his most senior student Patrick Gaffney, who was holding the retreat in Berlin. The sangha followed Rinpoche's teachings by gathering in four German cities, as well as at Lerab Ling in France, Dzogchen Beara in Ireland, and in five cities across the USA. Everyone was surprised at how intimate and personal the teachings via live streaming were. On the wings of modern technology, Sogyal Rinpoche continues to spread the teachings of his masters around the world.
- Rigpa. March 2012