The years 1963-1988 were spent introducing the West to Tibetan religion and some aspects of its culture. This served a double purpose: it began to make available to the world at large a wealth of material from one of Asia’s finest and most extraordinary civilisations.
By so doing, it also ensured its survival and perpetuation as living tradition. This work was centred around the development of the Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Centre, in Scotland; the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre in the West, developed jointly by Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in its first few years and thereafter by Akong Tulku Rinpoche. Visited by people from all over the world, he made it first and foremost a place of peace and spirituality, with a strong accent on active, selfless compassion, open to anyone of any faith.
Under the Gyalwa Karmapa’s guidance, Dr Akong Tulku established a traditional 3-year meditation retreat at Samye Ling and launched the construction of the Samye Project; the building of a major traditional Tibetan Buddhist temple and an accompanying College, Library and Museum. Phase 1 of the Samye Project consists of the temple, built entirely by the members of the Samye Ling community, under the active leadership of Dr Akong Tulku, who was often to be seen with a trowel in hand on the building site. The inside of the temple was exquisitely finished by a team of fine artists, sculptors, woodcarvers and other craftspeople working under the guidance of Sherapalden Beru. Sherapalden is one of the, if not the, finest master-artists of the Karma Gadri tradition.
The Grand Opening
The grand opening of Samye Temple took place on the 8th August 1988, with a commemorative plaque being unveiled by the XIIth Tai Situpa and the Rt. Hon. David Steel MP (now Lord Steel). Senior representatives of the world’s religions attended. During this period of Samye Ling’s development, various satellite centres and activities had come into being. Samye Dzong centres (premises without accompanying land) grew up in Belgium, Spain, Ireland, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the UK. On another front, the interest which many therapists and physicians showed in Dr Akong Tulku’s medicinal and therapeutic Buddhist skills led to the development of a unique therapy system, now thriving as the Tara Rokpa Therapy.
Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoches main work has been the expansion of the work of the Rokpa Charity, through humanitarian activities, principally in Tibet and Nepal, but also in Europe, where several soup kitchens have been established to feed the homeless in major cities. With tremendous vigour and diligence, Rinpoche has brought well over 100 projects into existence, each project being a school, clinic, medical college, self-help programme or scheme to protect the environment. These are mainly located in isolated rural areas of the Eastern part of the Tibetan plateau.
In Nepal, working mainly through Rokpa International’s Vice President Lea Wyler, Rinpoche has established an important project which feeds the hungry through the winter months. This has expanded to incorporate a children’s home, clinic, womens’ self-help workshops and so forth.
More recently Rokpas humanitarian activities have also begun to spread to Zimbabwe and South Africa, where work focuses on helping those affected by the AIDS crisis, and feeding the homeless. For a fuller explanation of Rokpa’s humanitarian work
In 1994, Akong Rinpoche was one of the main people to discover the reincarnation of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa and he played a very important role in first finding him, then taking him to the Karmapa seat at Tolung Tsurpu monastery and later arranging the visit of the two Regents – the 12th Tai Situpa and the 9th Goshir Gyaltsabpa – who gave him the naming ceremony and later enthroned him formally as the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Urgyen Drodul Tinley Dorje.
The increasing burden of his work in Tibet led Dr Akong to request his brother, the Ven Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, to take over the running of Kagyu Samye Ling in Scotland. Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche became the new Abbot and has since proved very successful, particularly in founding a strong monastic community there. Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche has completed 12 years of solitary retreat, and has accomplished the 49 days dark retreat twice; he is a meditation master of international repute, and is especially known and respected as an innovator in interfaith dialogue. Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche is Abbot of Kagyu Samye Ling, Retreat Master for the traditional 3- year retreats, and Executive Director of the Holy Island Project