Recollections by Felicity Keeley
In winter of 2014, Venerable Amy stepped down as Director of Milarepa Center and Felicity Keeley was appointed. Felicity started Milarepa Center’s Instagram account shortly after arriving. That summer, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Jampa taught the Wheel of Sharp Weapons; Nawang Kechog performed at Festival Day and gave teachings; Nick Ribush lead the Kopan Vermont course; Geshe Tenely lead Family Camp; and we hosted Yoga & Meditation days, celebrated His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday; Venerable Sarah was a guest of the Center’s while she was writing for Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive and occasionally gave teachings. Fall 2014 we continued to do public talks, pujas, and bring teachers to the Montpelier library. We hosted retreats with Geshe Tenley teaching the Six Perfections; Geshe Tubten Soepa teaching on Bodhichitta; and Geshe Kunchog Kyab leading Medicine Buddha. We participated in the Town of Barnet’s Trunk or Treat festivities and even carved pumpkins. We learned how to make Thukpa and had the coldest winter in over 20 years. In December, Venerable Tenzin Chokyi came to do a personal retreat, give a few teachings, and lead our New Year’s eve retreat.
In early spring of 2015, we had our first membership drive in several years, doubling our members from 25 to 70. Geshe Sherab came to Milarepa Center for the first time and stayed for three weeks, teaching on Life and Death, the three stages of the path, and giving refuge vows. Geshe Sherab was very supportive of our membership drive! Later in the spring, Jane Seidlitz gave a one-day retreat on Thangka drawing. Felicity started teaching meditation as part of an after-school initiative at Peacham Elementary. In May, we held a pancake breakfast to support the earthquake victims in Nepal. We raised over $400 to help a small village near Solo Kumbu. The relatives of the village are students of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and live in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. We also purchased a UTV thanks to a Merit Box grant and other wonderful donors. It immediately proved very helpful in traveling across the property. That summer we hosted our largest Kopan Vermont retreat ever with 33 students, lead by Geshe Konchog Kyab and Jacie Keeley. We also hosted another successful Family Camp. And, Paula Chichester came to lead a Chenrezig retreat. Fall 2015 we hosted our first WOOFERs. We met folks from across the US and the world and were able to share Milarepa Center with them as they gave service to help us get ready for Fall and Winter. We participated in the Colors of the Kingdom parade and in the Barnet Trunk or Treat celebration. Venerable Robina visited and lead a retreat on Death and Karma. We started building a Buddha garden on the top of the Buddha Field on the far left of the house. We ended the year with a self-led Vajrasattva Retreat.
2016 was Milarepa Center’s 35 year!
We started the year by hosting a grand Losar celebration in St. Johnsbury, Vermont at the Catamounts Arts theatre. It was very successful and over 50 people came out to enjoy a traditional Tibetan new years, despite it being negative 20 degrees out!
In February 2016, the Board of Directors decided to bring Milarepa Center officially into the 21st century by adding new, energy efficient, insulated, all-season individual retreat cabins. The Board of Directors spent the following five months meeting with pre-fab tiny house makers, contractors, developers, state and local officials, water treatment officials, foresters, and more. We did official soil tests to determine the actual capacity of the land to adding more septic and water wells. We learned some very interesting things about our 276 acres of land. Majority of the land is either protected land because of deer wintering or endangered plants. From that, other challenges of the land include rock ledge being highly prevalent everywhere and lots of wet lands. The amount of land that is viable and available to build on is very limited. From there, we considered the long-term layout of the Center by working with an environmental engineer and a forester. We were able to receive approval from the State biologist for cabins to be across the ridge of the far left field from the house and along the edge of the forest in the far right field from the house. We then started working with a local contractor and the Vermont Department of Transportation to re-route our long driveway to accommodate a potential influx of traffic.
From all of this, we received quotes estimating that re-routing the driveway would be over $50,000. We also learned that building permit fees in Vermont are based on a percentage of the total cost of the project. We decided that there were a lot of risks involved with going forward and there were a lot of unknowns that we were unsure if there would be obstacles to bringing the vision of Milarepa Center forward.
So, in June 2016 we wrote to Lama Zopa Rinpoche and gave him several options on how we could proceed.
In July, Rinpoche wrote back. Rinpoche’s advice was for us to follow the last option we had outlined. Giving the Center to the International Mahayana Institute (IMI) so it could be the first North American Monastic community of the FPMT. This option would create a space for initially nuns, and potentially down the line monks, to do their practices and have security and stability. This would also save the Center money because there would no longer be a need for paid staff.
In September 2016, the IMI accepted the offer and in October 2016, Felicity completed the hand-over of the Center to Merry Colony.