(This is the 18th in a series of reminiscences by Lama Lodu Rinpoche)
While I was beginning to think we might be renters forever, a dedicated group of my students continued to spend countless hours searching through the sales ads in the newspaper, looking for a suitable house we could transform into a dharma center.
Meanwhile I was conducting daily pujas, teachings and giving initiations to the growing KDK San Francisco sangha and also travelling frequently to the center in Portland, founded by Kalu Rinpoche, where they had no resident lama. A number of students, both in San Francisco and Oregon, were beginning to express a serious desire to participate in a traditional three-year retreat. Kalu Rinpoche had made it clear that he hoped KDK would have its own retreat center as soon as possible so that students could experience a deeper level of practice, so a number of them also began a search for land.
While I was wondering where the money was going to come from, one of my students gave me my first lesson in fundraising. She said that my students were so devoted to me that probably all I had to do was ask everyone who was able to contribute a thousand dollars. So I called a meeting and tried it. To my great surprise, 12 of my students immediately pledged a thousand dollars each. Another man, who was not exactly my student but wanted to support the dharma, heard about our project and gave me $6000 in cash. I knew the money may not have been earned in a completely proper way, so I didn't ask questions and I have never felt bad about accepting it: his intentions were pure and every penny of the money went toward furthering the dharma.
So in a very short time we had $18,000 and the Oregon students had found a 20-acre parcel in Marcola, near Eugene, that seemed perfect for us. It was located on hilly, forested land and had two houses and an orchard. We put down our $18,000 toward the purchase price of $40,000.
Over the next three years we got the permits and worked on the land while the retreat candidates did the necessary studies and preparations. A separate cookhouse was built, the two houses were converted into the men's and women's compounds and a number of cabins were built. The next time Kalu Rinpoche came to northern California, he was able to give ordination and retreat initiation to nine women and ten men and so began what I believe was the third traditional three-year retreat to be conducted in the US (the other two were in New York state). Kalu Rinpoche had arranged for another teacher, Lama Tsangtsing, to assist with the retreat, as I could not be there full-time.
Meanwhile, students in San Francisco had not given up on their house-hunting and finally they found a three-story building on Fell Street that might work for us. The first time I saw it I was a little worried about the neighborhood, which was pretty rough in those days, and the building itself was a bit run-down. But it was large, adaptable to our needs, and it looked like we might be able to afford it. I met with the owner's agent and got him to reduce the $199,000 price by another $9000.
The man told me I was just pretending to be a lama and that I must really be a rug merchant in disguise. Where I grew up everybody bargains all the time. It doesn't matter if the asking price is two cents, you try to get it down. I used to go with my father and uncle to the nearest market town, a three or four-hour walk from where we lived and I would watch them haggle for salt, oil, and tea. That's how I learned - it's been a useful skill!
We also managed to get the owner to finance the sale, which was crucial because we had no credit and couldn't possibly have gotten a bank loan. Somehow it all came together and in the fall of 1980, KDK Fell Street came into being.
To me all this seemed like a double miracle - in the span of just three years we had gone from owning nothing to buying our own center and twenty-acre retreat land. I was continually amazed by the hard work and dedication of my students, but even more so by the force of the Three Jewels, which I felt was in front of us at every moment, clearing away each obstacle that appeared in our path.
This is the 18th in a series of reminiscences by Ven. Lama Lodu Rinpoche
Lama Lodu Rinpoche's Autobiography