Saving the Lives of Countless Sentient Beings

The following article is from the Winter, 1999 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

A long cherished wish of Venerable Lama Jampa Rabjam Rinpoche's is about to be fulfilled. 2,600 acres of the over 5,000 acre Graham property, which is adjacent to the monastery lands, is in the process of being acquired by The Nature Conservancy of Canada, a conservation charity, to be maintained as a nature preserve, saving the lives of countless sentient beings.

This is a portion of the message sent in early August to members of the Orgyan Osal Cho Dzong Buddhist Monastery and Retreat Center, located in Madoc, Ontario, Canada, through the sangha's voicemail system. The news of the proposed acquisition was most welcome, not only for the protection of the diverse flora and fauna in the area, but more specifically because local hunters often use the property during the hunting seasons and now the lives of countless game birds, fish, deer, moose, bears, otters, wolves and foxes will be saved.

Originally, both Orgyan Dzong and the neighboring lands were one property, owned and maintained as a wildlife sanctuary by Herbert McKnight, who was instrumental in its reforestation and the reintroduction of various species of animals after the area had been clear cut for lumber at the turn of the century. McKnight Lake, which still bears his name, is a significant feature on the property. The land was later purchased by a group of investors in 1959, who turned it into the Hastings County Rod and Rifle Club. Due to some unusual circumstances, the club lasted less than two years and was then severed into two portions, the greater portion of 5.000+ acres acquired by William Graham and a small section, on which the club's various buildings were constructed, passed through various owners until it became Orgyan Dzong.

The buildings constructed at that time comprise, with some additions and renovations, the facilities of the monastery and retreat center today. The main building, originally a restaurant and now the temple, is 80 feet long and made entirely of British Columbia red cedar. Oriented precisely east-west, its windows catch the full sun of the winter months while the overhanging eaves of the roof shade the interior from the summer sun. The temple faces the gentle curves of the Black River flowing west from Lingham Lake. There is also a building to accommodate retreatants with fifteen rooms and a kitchen, just south of the Lama house.

In 1984, Venerable Lama Jampa Rabjam Rinpoche began searching out a suitable site for a country retreat center. After viewing various properties in the early Spring, they came upon what was then called Lingham Lake Lodge, and after considering the remarkably near perfect layout of the land and buildings according to the traditional rules of geomancy for temples and monasteries, Rinpoche decided upon it. The purchase was finalized on July 7,1984 (coincidentally the anniversary of Padmasambhava's birth). The acquisition of this facility was made possible by the dedication and generosity of several of Rinpoche's students.

Rinpoche named the center Orgyan Osal Cho Dzong after the favorite retreat center and final resting place of the Omniscient Longchen Rabjam, the highly accomplished, brilliant scholar and meditation master of the Nyingmapa school, who is often called the second Buddha, for whom he has the greatest respect and devotion. Orgyan (Uddiyana in Sanskrit) is the name of the country of Padmasambhava's birth. Osal is translated as clear light or pristine radiance. Cho is the Tibetan equivalent of the Sanskrit Dharma. Dzong can be translated as fortress or citadel.

Since its inception in 1984, the center has been transformed from a dilapidated country club into a beautiful Dharma center with a monastic community. Rituals are performed daily by the Lamas and monks and teachings and retreats occur regularly.

In 1988, Orgyan Dzong was host to His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, the Supreme Head of the Nyingma Lineage, who bestowed the profound teachings and initiations of the Long Chen Nying Thig and Zab Mo Yang Thig.

Lama dances were performed to bless the land by the monks of His Holiness' monastery in south India. His Holiness returned in August of 1997 to confer the single most important empowerment of the Kama Gong) lineage Tantric Tradition called the Net of Illusory Manifestations from the Guhya Garbha Tantra (Secret Essence). His Holiness holds this unbroken transmission lineage from Buddha Sakyamuni, exactly as it was taught 2,500 years ago.

The 200 acres owned by the retreat center have been maintained by Rinpoche and the sangha, with no logging, hunting or trapping allowed. The taking of life by hunters and trappers on the surrounding lands have always been a great concern. In early 1997, the Orgyan Dzong sangha learned that The Nature Conservancy of Canada had expressed an interest in acquiring the acy oining property for the purpose of creating a nature preserve, which was a cause of great happiness. Rinpoche's heart-son, Ven. Lama Jigme Chokyi Lodro, wrote a letter to The Conservancy indicating support by Rinpoche and the sangha for the acquisition of the property, Tenanted Elzevir Peatlands and Barrens. Included with that letter was a three page, two-columned list of plant and animal species in and around the area, compiled by members of the sangha, to further impress upon the conservation agency the ecological values of the property.

In Buddhist India, rulers would regularly set aside large tracts of land that would be free from hunting, and throughout the history of Buddhism, the practice of saving of animals from being killed has been practiced up until the present day. The merit from these activities is very great, and was said by the Buddha to result in prolonging the life and good health of those who perform them or to whom the merit is dedicated. Those who help with the purchase of this land by the Nature Conservancy will be literally saving the lives of countless beings for centuries, thereby earning incalculable merit.


In early 1997, the Orgyan Dzong sangha learned that The Nature Conservancy of Canada had expressed an interest in acquiring the adjoining property for the purpose of creating a nature preserve, which was a cause of great happiness.


But what exactly is The Nature Conservancy of Canada? A registered conservation charity incorporated in 1962, The Conservancy is the only national charity in Canada dedicated to preserving significant natural areas, places of special beauty and educational interest, through outright purchase, land donation and conservation agreement. Since 1962, they have helped to complete over 750 land acquisition projects, protecting more than 1.56 million acres (633,802 hectares) across Canada. Magnificent wetlands, internationally significant prairie habitat, woodlands, old-growth forest and many other habitat types have been protected through their programs.

The Elzevir Peatlands and Barrens is designated as a Life Sciences Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (A.N.S.I.) by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. In the area are many beaver ponds and bogs, which provide a variety of wildlife habitats. Over 100 bird species have been sighted on the property, including Merlins, Red-tailed Hawks, Great Horned and Grey Owls, and Ruby throated Hummingbirds. Golden Eagles have been rumored to nest on Mount Moriah, located on Crown land directly behind Orgyan Dzong and the property, and Great Blue Herons are nesting on the land in large numbers. The thin soil and severely disrupted drainage on the peatlands have resulted in extensive wetlands forming, making it home to more than 80 plant species such as St. John's Wort and Yarrow, and tree species include Juniper, Sugar Maple and Red Oak.

By mid-August of 1998, an agreement of purchase and sale had been signed between The Conservancy and the property owner. The next step for The Conservancy is raising the funds needed for the purchase. To complete the acquisition of the Elzevir Peatlands and Barrens, the sum of $540,000.00 (Canadian funds) needs to be raised. Proposals to various companies, foundations, agencies and groups are in progress, and donations from individuals are also welcome. All donations are receipt-able for income tax purposes. Canadian donations should be made payable to The Nature Conservancy of Canada and should be sent to 110 Eglinton Avenue West, Suite 400, Toronto, Ontario M4R 1A3. American donations should be made payable to The Nature Conservancy, 1815 North Lynn Street, Arlington, Virginia 22209, U.S.A. specifying that funds are to be directed toward the Elzevir project in Ontario, Canada.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada would like to thank the Buddhist community for their interest and support.