Client Highlight: Deer Park Buddhist Center
A photography gig that offers spiritual insight into my own mind, my own Self
In 2016 I found myself at the very beginning of my personal spiritual journey. Recent personal events had resulted in me exploring various meditation groups in the Madison area. While I had success in finding various Buddhist disciplines, I constantly had a feeling that I would find my way through random means.
One day a new friend, and instructor that I met through training in martial arts commented on his having attended a nearby Buddhist Temple. We decided to go experience a “teaching” together and one random Saturday traveled to Deer Park Buddhist Center, which is located just south of Oregon, WI. Little did I know that it was to be a day that began a period of self reflection and growth.
This is a short clip of His Holiness the Dalia Lama on the day I was invited to greet His arrival. I used my cellphone just briefly as I didn't want to be disrespectful.
A kind, older woman named Corinne Eng informed us that there were no teachings that day due to the imminent arrival of His Holiness the Dalia Lama. They were busy cleaning the Temple grounds, and asked if we wished to help. Having agreed to help, we then spent two hours collecting insects that happened to be waking from hibernation on this unusually warm winter day, escorting them outside. I always found it ironic that the two men who knew each other through training in martial arts, a skill meant for violence or sorts, were tasked with saving the lives of bugs.
Once completed I then found myself cleaning monks quarters, dusting the high shelves and furniture of the rooms where His Holiness would be staying with his entourage. While doing so I happened to find a hidden scroll that apparently belonged to the monastery's founder Geshe Lhundub Sopa. It had been nestled into the recessed top of an ornate bookshelf. This seemed to cause a lot of excitement! I recall a window being thrown open, and it being waved about as someone shouted to the monks outside.
It was an incredible introduction to this community, and resulted with my being invited to greet His Holiness! That is how I knew I had found the place for me to learn more about my own mind and soul. It all felt so welcoming, natural, and “right” for me.
For the first year I stopped by often to simply walk the grounds. I spent my time attempting to focus on my thoughts. At the time I was completely dedicated to training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, hitting the mats nearly five days per week. The gym I trained at was close to Deer Park and I would stop by on my way. I never spoke, or really saw anyone, and I only stayed outdoors. My routine was simple, I would walk the nature trail that looped through the old oak trees, ending up at the Stupa. There I would circle three times as I practiced breathing, calming my thoughts, and quelling my inner turmoil. My heart at that time was so full of anger, frustration, and rage as I struggled to understand my own motivations, and began to define my own intentions.
In all forms of weather I walked my looping routine, keeping away from the monks’ quarters and both temples. I found my experience very helpful in calming myself, and began to find a sense of balance. My BJJ training benefited immensely as I would arrive for training feeling very much centered and in control of my emotions, and reactions.
My friend Lhundup Chowng.
Above: Zeekgyab Rinpoche, Abbot of Tashi Lhunpo monastery in India, confers a White Tara Long Life Initiation on Saturday, April 15 2023.
Then, after about a year of this, I happened to be speaking with my old professor, mentor, and adopted “mother” Flavia Zortea. She’d been a huge influence on my life since I was a wild teenager. She encouraged me to actually speak with the monks, introduce myself, and take a step further into things. As soon as we completed our phone call I then left for training, planning on doing my meditative walk on the way. I also happened to grab my camera, threw on a zoom lens, and set the manual exposure to random settings. I hoped to spot some wildlife on my drive over.
As soon as I parked my vehicle I heard the distinct call of Sandhill Cranes passing overhead. My camera was set precisely at the correct ISO, shutter speed, and aperture to capture them immediately. While it wasn’t the most amazing photo that I have ever taken, I have always enjoyed it immensely, it was also the first time I took my pro-gear to Deer Park.
Within minutes of snapping that picture I made my way towards the stupa to begin my meditative walk. As I approached the sidewalk stairs leading through the garden I met Sherab, the monk who basically manages the property of the Temple. We spoke for the first time, a casual conversation about the wildlife, weather, and trail through the forest. In the end he invited me to enter the Temple for my meditation, and thus began my relationship with the monks.
A pair of sandhill cranes passing over Deer Park. I snapped this photo the moment I parked my jeep. It was a little over a year since I had begun to spend time at the monastery, and it was also the first time I met, and spoke with any of the monks.
Above and below: His Eminence the Seventh Kyabje Yongzin Ling Rinpoche teaching at Deer Park Buddhist Center & Monastery in July of 2019. It was an incredible experience for me to be part of this amazing experience.
I could write a book about my experiences at Deer Park, but suffice it to say I have had some incredibly profound moments of self realization, and have learned a lot about myself through my immersive learning. I also became a photographer for the Temple, taking photos of special occasions on occasion. It’s truly been one of the most important relationships I have formed in this lifetime.
Above: His Eminence Ganden Jangtse Choje Rinpoche presiding over the Guru Puja with Tsok to commemorating the third anniversary of the passing of Deer Park Buddhist Center & Monastery's founder and spiritual guide Geshe Lhundub Sopa.
Geshe Tenzin Dorjee
July 15th 2021
Here's a good article about His Holiness the Dalia Lama's 2016 visit.