Seattle-based teacher Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche has launched a retreat and study facility called the Contemplative Resource Center (CRC), in the Hill Country of south Texas.
The center is the first project of Causa Foundation, a nonprofit corporation created by Rinpoche in 2016. The Bandera, Texas, center will tap the naturally restorative landscape of this region of Texas to support all people, of any faith or tradition, interested in personal exploration or rejuvenation.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche is a widely celebrated Buddhist teacher, and the author of “Emotional Rescue,” “Rebel Buddha,” and numerous other books. Rinpoche also is founder, president, and spiritual director of Nalandabodhi, an international community of Buddhist centers headquartered in Seattle. Nalandabodhi is dedicated to bringing the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion into the modern world.
Rinpoche’s work manifested in several significant ways in 2019. Earlier that year Nalandabodhi’s Mahasiddha Retreat Centre in the Canadian Rockies opened to retreatants, providing a place for solitary and group retreats in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. In the fall Causa acquired the West 1077 Guest Ranch in Bandera, and began to convert the ranch into the Contemplative Resource Center. While Mahasiddha addresses the needs of Buddhist retreatants specifically, the CRC vision is broader.
Causa and CRC are not strictly “Buddhist” organizations, but rather seek to apply compassionate wisdom in assisting all those seeking a meaningful life no matter what tradition they follow. Using Buddhist philosophy as a starting point, the new center in Texas will provide individuals and groups a place of beauty and solitude for scholarly study and spiritual practice of all the world’s great wisdom traditions, informed and enhanced by contemporary natural, physical and social sciences.
The nearby town of Bandera is world-renowned, drawing visitors from around the globe as the self-styled “cowboy capital of the world.” Its people are gracious, friendly, and full of hospitality and charm – a small-town community that is maintaining its individuality as it opens its doors to visitors from all over the North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
Only one hour northwest from San Antonio and two hours southwest from Austin, the ranch is easily accessible from these growing high-tech hubs. But the ranch’s natural beauty and serenity, so conducive to the contemplative life, is worlds away. While it will take time and much work for the CRC vision to come to full fruition, the ranch is already open and offering programs to inspire visitors and retreatants alike.
The first CRC retreat, the Contemplative Meditation Program, was led in late January by Mitra Dean Mark Power and Acharya Lhakpa Tshering of Nalandabodhi. As a small but intimate group from both coasts, Canada, and the Texas region gathered to walk the land, listen to inspirational presentations, meditate, and socialize with true warmth, the retreat set the tone for what the CRC will provide.
The Nalandabodhi Texas chapter soon followed with a day of practice and celebration, hopefully the first of several events and weekend retreats throughout the year.
The land itself is 227 acres of open meadows, rolling hills, enchanting live oak forests, and impressive hilltop vistas, all laced with paths for hiking, running, horseback riding, and mountain biking. It borders and has rare direct access to the 5,400-acre Hill Country State Natural Area, an undeveloped preserve of native Texas landscape with its own seemingly endless network of trails.
The West 1077 Guest Ranch guest ranch facility on the property remains available to the public. The ranch been a popular Hill Country destination for regional and international travelers for 30 years.
A comfortably rustic main lodge with a massive stone fireplace anchors the “downtown” area of the ranch, providing facilities for dining, gathering, and socializing for groups of up to 100. The porch running along the lodge’s western side provides cover for rocking chairs situated perfectly for sunset. As the sun goes down the campfire below the lodge glows, ringed by log benches just waiting for old friends and new acquaintances to swap stories.
Fourteen cabins scattered down the hillside accommodate up to 60 in handmade cedar post beds. Each cabin has its own front porch with varying views of pastures, lawns and woodlands.
Wildlife abounds on the property, but its most omnipresent animal population is the string of 16 horses owned and cared for by Eileen Connelly of Juniper Hills Stables. Those horses are still available for riding.
As plans for the CRC take shape, creating and maintaining this potent container close to nature, with a sense of spaciousness and solitude, will be fundamental to all future development and programming. The physical place will open space for contemplation and spiritual discovery. The programming will bring visitors into a relationship with the natural environment that fosters appreciation and reflection.
Retreats currently under development include a seasonal Back to Nature Mindfulness Retreat, a Monarch Migration Retreat, a Lights Out Weekend, and an Emotional Rescue in Nature Weekend (using Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s “Emotional Rescue” book as a guide).
Ongoing initiatives include environmental monitoring programs led by staff and volunteers, a nature/environmental club for local kids, and introductory meditation events for neighbors.
Planning for developing the site is already underway. A bluff-top platform tent community is currently under construction and should be ready for campers early this summer. Vegetable gardens are being located, and plans for a greenhouse are being considered.
Fundraising is underway for an auditorium for teaching, musical and community events with seating for 320. We’re also planning a residence hall complex for scholarly and contemplative programs, with classrooms and a meeting hall to accommodate 120. Another project is building individual off-grid retreat cabins and cottages tucked away inconspicuously around the property, for private solitary practice and study.
Other development goals include a library for Buddhist and other wisdom tradition texts, a center for scholarly study and translation, and a multi-generational residential development which will establish a like-minded long-term community on the property.
Great care has been taken with the planning of all of these projects to protect the serenity of the land, the spaciousness of the experience, and natural processes of the environment. Naturalist surveys, water catchment, passive design elements, and alternative energy sources have figured heavily into the layout and details of these initiatives. As building moves forward, it will be treated as a study in earth-wise techniques and strategies, a physical example of the CRC vision, mission and attitude in action.
Local support has been vibrant and wholehearted. An open house held in early December was attended by 75 local business people, town administrators, and nearby neighbors. Finding itself very quickly at home in the area, the Contemplative Resource Center is poised to bring this sense of community, care, and support to all those who wish to partake.
You are welcome to schedule a tour or visit the property on your own time. Our contact information is listed below. Send us your questions and comments…We’d love to hear from you! Please contact Kim Haroche at email@example.com.
Mitchell Owen is a member of the Nalandabodhi community and has been practicing Tibetan Buddhism in the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma traditions as directed by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche since 2008. Owen is an architect and owns MOD LLC, an architecture and design firm based in New York City and Woodstock, N.Y. He also teaches architecture at Parsons School of Design. He serves on the CRC Advisory Board and is a member of the CRC operational team.