In the beginning …
Kechara Forest Retreat (KFR) truly is a labour of love and compassion. Envisioned by H.E. Tsem Rinpoche in early 2012, the pristine forested land where KFR is now located was acquired in April 2012, after weeks of scouring the Malaysian countryside for a suitable plot.
With the necessary paperwork out of the way, extensive pujas were conducted to consecrate and bless the land, and visitors began to trickle in, each interested to learn how they could contribute to Rinpoche’s vision.
Temporary accommodation in the form of canvas tents (for the men) and container cabins (for the ladies) were installed and a dedicated team of staff moved in to get the project underway.
Earthworks officially started on 3 October 2012 and what followed next was months of hard work and effort unlike anything the city-dwelling volunteers and staff had ever known. For the next 10 months, devoted students and workers alike battled the natural elements, braving the scorching heat and suffocating humidity for the first half of the year, while the second half brought torrential rains, flash floods, muddy lands and hazardous working conditions.
The lack of infrastructure such as electricity, water and poor telecommunication reception multiplied the challenges, but dedicated staff and volunteers faced each problem head on, armed only with sheer faith, belief in the cause and love for their Guru.
Never one to shy away from adversity, Tsem Rinpoche also stayed in the most basic of cabins right in the middle of the then jungle, enduring the same harsh living conditions and adverse weather from Day One. The perfect example of putting others before self, Rinpoche patiently suffered the heat, humidity, blackouts, floods, and even heatstroke while living on the land, inspiring others to do the same.
Many will attest to fond memories of this dedicated, compassionate and caring Lama walking around in yellow rubber boots under the hot sun or pouring rain, picking his way carefully across dangerous grounds, personally supervising the works in progress, and dispensing words of encouragement, advice, and even food.
In between his morning and evening walkabouts, Rinpoche also performed extensive daily pujas to bless the land and all those working on it, to avert problems, mishaps and to ensure that every step of the project was on track.
Despite the various challenges and uphill battles, the team persevered, working at a feverish pace. Phase 1 of Kechara Forest Retreat was completed in just under one year, and we are now in the planning stages of Phase 2.
Signs of the future
From the time Kechara Forest Retreat was conceptualised till today, many auspicious signs have been witnessed by those present on-site. In the Tibetan tradition, such omens symbolise that this project will bring great benefit to society in the future, regardless of race, creed or colour. These are just some of the auspicious signs that have occurred in the recent past.
The Postcard and the Iconic Tree
Around the time Rinpoche started conceptualising KFR, a postcard arrived from Mongolia, featuring the image of a monk meditating under a lone tree, set against a backdrop of mountains. During the search for a suitable location for this project, a piece of land was found that featured the exact same view depicted in the postcard, with a lone mango tree against a background of lush green hills.
When Rinpoche and his assistants came to survey the land, they were greeted by a light drizzle – an auspicious sign in Tibetan Buddhism – further confirming that this was indeed THE right place for KFR to come into fruition. Today, that lone mango tree is fondly called the “Iconic Tree” and a stone Shakyamuni Buddha was placed there to commemorate this significant omen and as a reminder of how it all began.
The Lama’s Shoe
When earthworks began, the grounds of KFR were extremely muddy due to the constant monsoon rains. During one of his daily inspection walks, one of Rinpoche’s shoes became stuck and sank into the mud.
Tibetans believe that any article of clothing left behind by a Lama imbues the place with his blessings and energies, and creates the causes for him to return to that place again and again, even in future lives. Rinpoche’s shoe remains in the same location to this day, and this sacred spot is now flanked by two major buildings i.e. Wisdom Hall and Dukkar Apartments.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
When the statue of Four-Armed Manjushri was set in place on Manjushri Hill, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the background accompanied by a light drizzle, both very auspicious signs in Tibetan Buddhism. Witnesses said that the rainbow remained visible throughout the duration of the puja that was being performed to welcome Manjushri to his new abode. Both the drizzle and rainbow disappeared once the puja was completed.