We’re celebrating 25 years in New York City!
As part of our birthday celebrations, we’ll be reminiscing here about some of our most memorable moments over the last 25 years.
Geshe Kelsang Arrives in the West
Thinking of where it all began, it was Geshe Kelsang’s acceptance of an invitation to go to England and teach Dharma that made our Center possible. Geshe-la has been in the West now for 42 years. In that time, he has given thousands of teachings, published 23 highly acclaimed books on Buddhism and meditation, re-presented Dharma in the form of Modern Buddhism to make Buddha’s teachings relevant and accessible to people everywhere. He has established three study programs that are now offered at Centers throughout the world, he has built many Temples, including five Temples for World Peace, and he has founded more than a thousand meditation centers and branches in over forty countries.
Thank you Geshe-la from the bottom of our hearts, for your tireless leadership. Thank you for giving our lives great meaning.
“Serendipity” and the Arrival of Kadam Dharma in America
In 1985, Geshe Kelsang made headlines!
Hearing about Bob Geldof’s Live Aid concert to end world hunger, he sold a car that had been given to him and donated all of his money to the cause. A local Cumbrian newspaper captured the story and as 1980s syndication would have it, the story also ran in far afield places such as Palm Springs in the desert of southern California. A local there who read about Geshe-la’s giving was so moved by his selfless act, he invited him to come and teach in America.
In 1990, after completing his three year retreat in Tharpaland, and having already set up centers in England and Spain, Geshe-la accepted the invitation and headed to the USA. In 1991, he established Saraha Buddhist Center in San Francisco -, the first American Kadampa center. Around the same time, a New Yorker by the name of Arturo Sanchez-Lacay was traveling through Spain and happened upon one of Geshe-la’s books. Impressed by his writings, he immediately requested a teacher be sent to New York City. This led to Geshe-la requesting Kadam Morten to move to New York City in order to establish Kadam Dharma there and in Washington D.C.
Picture 1: Arturo Sanchez-Lacay, who is famous among our Sangha for requesting Geshe-la to send a teacher to NYC is seen here greeting Geshe-la when he visited the Brooklyn Center in the '90's.
Picture 2: Arturo Sanchez-Lacay offering the Guru Plate at at OSG puja on Je Tsongkhapa Day yesterday.
From Sheep and Rolling Hills to Grit and Graffiti
Kadam Morten met Venerable Geshe Kelsang in 1981 while studying at York University in the north of England. After graduating he became a resident at Madhyamaka Center, first in their townhouse location, and then a few years later, in their current countryside location, Kilnwick Percy Hall, surrounded by sheep and rolling hills.
At Madhyamaka Center Kadam Morten had the opportunity to study intensively on the Teacher Training Program, as well as teach the Foundation Program. He would also travel to teach at many Centers throughout England, regularly covering 1000 miles a week.
It was 1994 when Geshe Kelsang requested Morten to move to America to establish Kadam Dharma in New York City.
"My first sight of the Manhattan skyline, driving in from JFK airport, was somewhat terrifying. I couldn't see a single tree. But Geshe-la had made it very clear to me that people here need inner peace and I had great confidence in the teachings I had received. It was definitely a hugely challenging transition for me personally. But at the same time I knew it was an amazing opportunity to do something truly beneficial. It was a real spiritual adventure."
Together with a few dedicated students, Kadam Morten set about his task with enthusiasm. Twenty-five years later, many thousands of New Yorkers have benefitted from Geshe-la's Modern Buddhist teachings. Kadampa Meditation Center NYC is now a large ground-floor city Temple on 24th Street that welcomes up to a thousand students each week and supports a number of branch classes throughout the city.
Free Public Talk: September 24, 1994. Everyone welcome!
When Kadam Morten arrived in America, he had with him only his luggage and an address of a space on Bleecker Street where he was to be holding his first classes. Not yet having his bearings and it being quite a few years before the advent of cell phones with GPS, he entered the trendy West Village and started along the cafe-strewn Bleecker Street.
As it turns out Bleecker Street is very long. Gradually the neighborhood changed, the crowds thinned and he found himself in the barb-wired, graffiti-covered, run-down Bowery, very different from what it looks like today. It was quite a lot for a "country boy" to take in and with some trepidation he knocked on the door of the rented space - a dance studio. This was to become the setting of the very first Kadam Dharma classes in New York City.
First order of the day was a free public talk to generate as much local interest as possible.
Kadam Morten and a few others flyered throughout Greenwich Village in the lead up to the class. On the night of the inaugural talk, his mom flew in from Florida, stood outside the dance studio and encouraged passersby to go in and listen to her son!
The night was a success - with a turnout of 60 curious New Yorkers.
And that was just the beginning!
Laying Firm Foundations: The Move to South Slope
Within six months of the first public talk in the Bowery, a community of regulars had formed. While they were still only small in number, they were large enough to justify a move into a residential space.
...and the first Kadampa Center in New York City was opened!
Kadam Morten, along with four early students - Jordan, Alicia, Grace, and Jo - crammed into a small duplex on the unfashionable side of 1990s Park Slope. Their living room became the designated Gompa, where classes were held and open to the public. Kadam Morten continued to teach in the East Village and in various other places around New York City, where he would meet a broad variety of New Yorkers and invite them to trek out to South Slope for weekend courses and pujas.
Interest in Kadam Dharma continued to grow steadily, and the small duplex in South Slope was quickly outgrown.
Lam Chung Cleaning Services, The Vajrasattva Statue, and the Prediction that Came True
A few short years after establishing Chakrasambara Buddhist Center (now Kadampa Meditation Center NYC) in South Park Slope, it was time to move again.
During “the Park Slope years”, Grace, one of the residents, had started a business called Lam Chung’s Cleaning Services, which only ever attracted one single client - a couple living in a beautiful brownstone in Boerum Hill. When Grace visited their apartment, she discovered they were the owners of a large statue of Vajrasattva, and she instantly felt that one day this would be the next home of the Center.
...and it was. In 1997, Kadam Morten and nine other students moved into the beautiful space.
The years at Boerum Hill were formative for the KMC NYC community. The south-facing garden and sun-drenched deck became the gathering place after classes and pujas. This environment fostered close bonds between the Sangha, enabling a sense of family to take hold.
During these years, still early in KMC NYC’s development, the Sangha was fortunate enough to host a talk and puja with Geshe-la. This only strengthened the community and attracted more students.
Dharma continued to flourish...
The Move to Manhattan
The lease was up in Brooklyn...and it had become clear that for Dharma to flourish in New York City, the Center needed to be based in Manhattan. And so a search began for a commercial space that was accessible to everyone.
The Sangha conducted an extensive hunt for the right space, looking at almost 50 sites with various realtors, but nothing felt quite right. It was now just a matter of weeks before the residents would be out on the street if they didn't find something soon.
Then an occasional student said he knew someone who might be able to help. Shortly after, Kadam Morten found himself talking to the owner of one of the largest real estate companies in New York. Intrigued by Buddhism, he agreed to help.
In the nick of time, he was able to secure a temporary location in Midtown and then shortly after, a more permanent one - a fifth floor office space in Chelsea. This became home for the next 12 years!
At first, the move seemed outlandishly ambitious and the rent way beyond what seemed possible. The Center's treasurer was not happy. But Kadam Morten had seen this before with Venerable Geshe-la, ‘If you build it, they will come.”
It was just after 9/11, 2001 -- a hugely emotional time in New York City. Conferences were being cancelled everywhere, but the NKT went right ahead with its scheduled Fall Festival in the Catskills area, north of the city.
As a result, Kadam Morten was able to request Venerable Geshe-la to come to open the new Center and he accepted! What a tremendously joyful event it was! And very healing and auspicious for the city.
During his talk at the opening, Venerable Geshe-la said that this new large city center was ‘his dream’ come true, and that its purpose was to give New Yorkers a ‘new spiritual life.’
What a beautiful beginning to a new chapter!
Envisioning a Kadampa Buddhist Center on Every Street Corner of the Big Apple
In the late 90's while visiting New York City and driving through the Manhattan streets teeming with people, Geshe Kelsang said to Kadam Morten, "so many people, so much suffering". Later, while opening the first commercial space in Manhattan, Geshe-la said that New York City needs 100 Centers and 100 qualified teachers.
Kadampa Meditation Center NYC has already helped give rise to other centers in the New York area and many students who studied with Kadam Morten in Brooklyn or Chelsea have gone on to become resident teachers:
Kadam Holly: KMC Long Island, in Huntington.
Kadam Donna : Vajra Light Buddhist Center, in White Plains
Kadam Matthew: Vajradhara Kadampa Meditation Center in Brooklyn
Kadam Peter: Dharmachakra Buddhist Center in New Jersey
Kadam Deann: former resident teacher, Dharmapala Buddhist Center in Virginia
Alex Bonano: former resident teacher, KMC The Hamptons (now helping flourish Dharma in Colorado)
Gen Kelsang Tsoglam: KMC Bloomington
Gen Kelsang Chokyi: Atisha Buddhist Center, Rhode Island
Gen Kelsang Tenzin: KMC Philadelphia
Neil Toyota: KMC The Hamptons
Miri Renner: KMC Hamburg
Tim Larcombe: KMC Copenhagen
As to future 100 teachers...today there are over 100 students studying on the Teacher Training Program at KMC NYC. So watch this space...
Already many of these students are teaching at the main center and in branch locations, as the Teachers page here shows https://meditationinnewyork.org/our-teachers/…
KMC NYC and the Building of the Second NKT World Peace Temple
While still in Brooklyn the KMC NYC community became involved in a wonderful project initiated by Venerable Geshe-la – locating a site for the construction of the second NKT World Peace Temple (the first one is of course located at the mother center Manjushri KMC in England.)
Initially the task involved scouring the countryside for a suitable location. After several months of this, Geshe-la sent his assistant to New York, who, directed by Geshe-la, found the current property in a matter of days!
From the get-go the city Sangha was involved with the Temple project, with some practitioners even moving upstate to work on it full time. Throughout the years of construction, regular retreats and Dharma Celebrations were also held on the grounds, so that by the time Venerable Geshe-la visited in 2006 the KMC NYC community was closely connected to the Temple and its community.
At KMC NYC we feel so fortunate to be less than 2 hours away from this magnificent Temple. Practitioners from here often attend courses and retreats there with Gen Samten, and we also hold a major course of our own there, at least once a year with Kadam Morten.
People will often meet the Dharma here in the City. However, it’s when they go to the Temple that they immediately understand just how big Geshe-la’s vision for the world is, and how fully engaged and serious our tradition is.
We feel closely linked, like one Center with two sides. The City side supplies the people, and the Country side supplies the immersion. Together we demonstrate Modern Buddhism, showing how to practice Dharma in our busy daily life, and showing how to combine our daily practice with occasional retreats.
Now since the opening of our new space in the city we have both a City Temple and a Country Temple. How kind is our Spiritual Guide! Thank you Geshe-la for supplying all our spiritual needs.