A History of Guna Norling

Breaking Waves, Breaking News in Brazil

During the Drupchö of the Rigdzin Düpa in the winter of 2003, Rinpoche spoke about his vision for the creation of five retreat centers in locations around the world. As more students have matured to the point of entering 100 day retreat, the basic need for places to practice in solitude has grown. Soon after, through a generous offering of land by Paddy McCarthy and Rebecca Henry, Pema Ösel Do Ngak Chöling was established in Vermont. Through another auspicious act of generosity by Chime and Naomi Mattis and Kelly and Mark Smith, in March of this year, Mangala Shri Bhuti established Guna Norling, a retreat center at an oceanfront house in Salvador, Brazil.

For many years this retreat house was a vision and inspiration of Chime Mattis who built the four storey house, and subsequently offered it to MSB. The house is located on a secluded cove away from the noises and bustle of the city thus making it ideal for retreat. Rinpoche’s initial vision for Guna Norling is to have two to three people in retreat at a time for stays of up to six months, the limitation of the typical Brazilian visa. Currently there is one person in retreat here and three more scheduled to enter in the near future. These retreatants will have finished the cycle of teachings at Samten Ling and will be coming to Guna Norling to practice in solitude, at the same time opening space for more retreatants to come through Samten Ling. Three of the four floors of the house have retreat rooms with large windows overlooking the ocean. The neighborhood is abundant with health food and grocery stores and there is a possibility of finding shoppers to support the retreatants. Work is in progress to repair the some damage and replace roof tiles. In addition, a renovation project extending the protective verandas on each floor is well under way, making additional space available for practice outdoors.

Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, was the first major port and the capital of colonial Brazil for almost two centuries. Founded in 1534, Salvador de Bahia witnessed the blending of European, African and Amerindian cultures. The city lies between green tropical hills and broad beaches along the bay of Todos os Santos. It was built on two levels with administra- tion buildings and residences constructed on the hills; forts, docks, and warehouses on the beaches. To this day the city is still divided into upper and lower cities.

Until 1815 Salvador was the nation’s busiest port. A significant portion of the sugar from the northeast and gold and diamonds from the mines in the southeast passed through Salvador. It was a golden age for the town; magnificent homes and churches resplendent in gold decoration were built. Many of the city’s baroque churches, private homes, squares, and even the hand-chipped paving bricks have been preserved as part of Brazil’s historic patrimony.

Modern day Salvador is considered the cultural and artistic heart of Brazil. Here, more than anywhere else in the country, the African influence in the makeup of Brazilian culture is readily visible, from music and the spicy dishes still called by their African names (caruru, vatapa, acaraji), to the ceremonies of candombli which honor both African deities and Catholic holidays, to the capoeira schools where a unique African form of ritualistic fighting is taught. Salvador enjoys a mild climate with hot summers and rainy winters. Its population is around 2,250,000 inhabitants who reportedly are by and large “laid back and juicy.”

In the last several weeks MSB has obtained a transfer of deed to the property. In the world of Brazil’s bureaucracy this was a great feat, accomplished with lightning speed. Apparently this sort of a trans- fer usually occurs with substantial diffi- culty and time consuming bureaucratic entanglements. The repair and renovation work is scheduled to be completed by the end of June. In the words of Vern Mizner, Guna Norling’s first retreatant, "this is not a bad time to start learning a little bit of Portuguese."

Excerpted from Crucial Point, Winter/Spring 2004