The Karmapa of Tibet builds in Earleton

By James Williams, Bradford Count Telegraph, June 5, 2008

Bradford, FL (USA) -- David Bole is the lama, or priest, in residence at the Gainesville Buddhist Center at Northwest 10th Avenue, off of 13th Street. Like minded people join him there for study and meditation, and the group has weekly meetings on Sunday.

<< The buildings at the Buddhist center will not be especially large or elaborate, said Lama David Bole. Instead the retreat and community center will showcase the area’s natural environment, like this enormous oak tree, now featured on the center’s Web site.

Last year, the Buddhist center bought a piece of property that sits on the shores of Lake Santa Fe, near Earleton. The group hopes to raise as much as $2- to $3 million to build a retreat and sanctuary for meditation in its rural, Lake Region spot.
"Costs keep going up every day for materials," Bole said last week.

Bole became a lama by virtue of three years of study. After he was ordained-if that's the right word-he was asked to return to Gainesville and help promote the Kagyu Buddhist tradition.

Bole and others at the center are followers of the teachings of the Sakyamuni Buddha, though their branch of that religion is known as Tantric or Tibetan Buddhism.

"These times we live in are dark," Bole said. "People have lost their sense of compassion. We are about the cultivation of loving kindness for all things that inhabit this planet. Our goal is to avoid suffering and promote peace, loving kindness and compassion."

Tibetan Buddhism isn't the only such branch of the religion. The Chinese had, and still have, their version, as do the Japanese who call it Zen Buddhism. Other Tibetan traditions include Gelug as practiced by the Dalai Lama, Sakya and Nyingma, which Bole said was the oldest of the Tibetan traditions.

However, Bole and others who worship at his Gainesville sanctuary are followers of the Karmapa of Tibet, who adheres to the Kagyu tradition.

The Karmapa is also a lama and a sort of high priest of that tradition. The current Karmapa's name is Orgyn Thrinley Dorje, and he will be 23 years old on June 25.

Dorje is not the first Karmapa. In fact, he is the 16th Holiness in a tradition goes back to at least the twelfth century.

Like his predecessors, when the time comes the current Karmapa will one day leave a letter to his senior student, indicating who and where the mother and father of the 17th Karmapa will be located.

Dorje was located as a child in an eastern area of Tibet and brought over that country's high, dry, rocky terrain above the cloud lines to Lhasa. There, he grew up and was trained by monks or lamas in Tibetan monasteries.

The communist Chinese had already invaded Tibet in the early 1950s, decades before the current Karmapa was born. In 2000, Dorje slipped away from a rural retreat, surreptitiously leaving the country via an elaborate itinerary that included walking over mountains, or riding in automobiles, helicopters and jet planes.

Eventually, he made his way to Dharamsala, India, where he was embraced by the 14th Dalai Lama, also living in exile.

It isn't peculiar that the Karmapa has followers in North Central Florida. There are other centers of Kagyu Buddhism all over the U.S., including Seattle.

In fact, the North American seat of the sect where Bole studied, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, is in Woodstock N.Y.-yes, that Woodstock-where the center was founded by His Holiness's predecessor, the 15th Karmapa.

"Right now, we're clearing a small amount of land (at the Santa Fe site) to make some room for the center and retreat," Bole said.

He said he wasn't as certain about what will happen to the remnants of a blueberry farm on the property.

"Those blueberry bushes are really old," he said, "and they take up quite a bit of the property. It would take a lot to bring them up to speed again."

Bole said he would have to seek advice on the blueberry bushes but thought at least a portion of the blueberry farm could become a u-pick-em cottage industry for the Buddhist center.

But mainly, Bole said, "We want to make (the Santa Fe site) a place of meditation and contemplation."

Plans for the facility rest largely with Bole and the Gainesville Center. They are not planning a retreat for His Holiness the Karmapa so much as they see it as a winter residence and a community center.

"We have a vision of the possibility that a person can spend a week in solitary retreat," Bole said, though he doesn't see the Santa Fe site as an enclave of hermits. Rather, he envisions a smallish shrine for worship and meditation with other spaces to feature the cultural aspects of Tibet.

"I see it as a community resource to preserve the Tibetan culture including medicine, dance, and poetry," the lama said.

"Within parameters, we will welcome the community. It will be a place for people to come, to walk in our gardens and meditate. Idle curiosity," Bole said, "is just fine."

Fund-raising is up to the Gainesville center. The Karmapa, a lama who theoretically owns nothing, will provide no funds.
Still, the center has consulted Dorge and the project received his blessing.

Bole reported last week that during a recent New York visit as the Karmapa was making his first trip to the U.S., he told the Gainesville group, "You build it and I will come."

For further information on the Gainesville Buddhist Center or the Santa Fe retreat, e-mail