The story of Benchen Krakow
The beginnings of Benchen Krakow reach to the 1970s, when a group of people interested in Buddhism led by Wladyslaw Czapnik met the first Buddhist teachers. It was then, that Lama Ole Nydhal visited Krakow for the first time and has since come regularly. The group was growing, an increasing number of people had the wish to learn formal practices and receive transmissions from qualified masters. Therefore, the newly formed Karma Kagyu Buddhist Association invited Beru Khyentse Rinpoche, who was the first teacher to offer in Poland the most necessary empowerments, including White Tara, Vajrasattva and Amitabha empowerments. It was 1984. At that time the Krakow group was the most numerous and strong, therefore the meeting took place in Krakow, in a tent borrowed from STU Theatre.
Venerable Tenga Rinpoche visited us in 1986. As it was March, a tent was out of the questions. We rented a large-enough room in the Community Centre on Wroclawska Street. The date of the visit was changed last minute a moved by a week! Those were times, when very few people had phones, so the organizers have sent dozens of telegrams to Poland, to ensure that all those interested, would arrive on the right day. No one could afford a hotel back then, so we had to accommodate the guests in our flats, often small and not very comfortable. But no one complained. The possibility to meet a teacher was, that what was important. Already during this first visit, many of us felt a strong connection with Rinpoche and the need to meet him again.
1986 was a wonderful year for Polish Buddhists. His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche also visited Krakow. That was already in June, so we were able to once again use the relatively affordable tent from STU Theatre. In an attempt to make it suitable for the visit, one of our friends purchased a hug amount of cheap gardening net. When it was stretched over the shrine and Rinpoche’s throne, it looked as if it was made from silk (apparently some thought it really was!). we were all overwhelmed by the fact that we were visited by one of the Karmapa’s regents and we wished to welcome him with a traditional offering of the mandala of the universe. Unfortunately, none of us knew, how to perform this ritual. Luckily, we were helped by a friend from Denmark. The ceremony was not very formal and Rinpoche showed a lot of understanding for our ignorance. In the following years more wonderful teachers visited us. Tenga Rinpoche visited us again in 1989. At that time he already had a significant number of students, who were committed to practicing according to his personal instructions.
When Karma Kagyu Association was troubled by quarrels and disagreements regarding the method of practice, Benchen Karma Kamtsang Buddhist Association was formed in 1994. It’s core were the students of Tenga Rinpoche, led by Lama Rinchen. Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, the main master of the Benchen Monastery and Tenga Rinpoche took spiritual guidance over it. Grabnik, a village near Warsaw, became the main seat of the Association.
The group of Krakow Buddhists, who decided to commit to the Centre in Grabnik, was small. At that time we formally became a branch of Benchen Monastery.
The lack of a place to practice hindered the development of our group. For a few years we met in the home of one friend from our Sangha, but the need to have our own place prompted us to look for a different location. Due to financial misery, we rented a place on Lobzowska Street together with a group of people practicing Zen Kwan Um. The place was very small and only a dozen people could fit in. It was not the place of our dreams. Anyway, the owners terminated our rent. We moved to a bigger place on Mostowa Street. Its advantage was the beautiful view of the Vistula River. It was here, that after many years we were again to host a Tibetan Lama, a teacher from the Benchen tradition, Sangter Rinpoche.
Sangter Rinpoche has been visiting Krakow every year since then. Sometimes even more than once a year. We were also lucky to be visited by Lama Rinchen. Unfortunately, the place on Mostowa Street, also turned out to be only a stop. We moved to Stradom and once again we were sharing he space with other Buddhist groups – Zen Kwan Um, Shambala and Dzogchen. It has its upsides – for the first time in years we met all together for Vesak and other Buddhist holy days. However it also caused some difficulties. Establishing the schedule, especially when all of the groups wanted to organize something on the exact same day, was very difficult. Additionally, because of some problems with heating attending practices in winter required a lot of perseverance. We decided that the next place we would rent, would be only ours and properly heated!
The apartment that we planned to rent on Dietla Street, was initially in a horrid state. It cried for a thorough renovation, new doors, floors and so on. The crew made up from volunteers from the Sangha made the impossible happen and our new Gompa opened in July 2017. Sangter Rnpoche honored us with his presence for the opening ceremony. And so finally we are at home. On a daily basis, the Gompa is looked after by lama Sandra, who moved to Krakow with this purpose.