A simple gray-shingled building set back from the main road in a quiet wooded area of West Tisbury, the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center has provided a refuge for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike since 1999. The focal point of the center is a sunlit open meditation hall where Islanders and visitors gather for guided sessions.
“The founder [Shamar Rinpoche] meant it to be a place that did not have too many of the trappings of Tibetan Buddhism,” said Sharon Gamsby, who serves as co-coordinator for the center along with Barbara Dacey. “I think that the founder intended it to be open to all. It’s not in a religious context. Not in an historic context. It’s meant to be a place where Western people have a place to help get a clear relationship with themselves.”
The center holds meditation sessions thrice weekly year-round, and hosts visiting guest teachers for special events. This weekend, Tsering Ngodup of Lexington will lead a weekend of Buddhist teachings titled “Inner and World Peace: View, Meditation, and Action Inspired by Lovingkindness and Wisdom.”
“Thinking about a topic, we decided this would be a good one for Martin Luther King Day,” Ms. Gamsby said. “We thought we could tie it into Buddhism and freedom. Mr. Ngodup chose a topic that will inform inner peace and world peace.”
Ms. Gamsby explains that Buddhist teachings can be of benefit to people of all — or no — formal belief systems.
“The view in Buddhism is a basis of motivation,” she said. “From the Buddhist teachings there will often be some basic tenets of generosity, patience, ethics. They form a basis of motivation and inspiration.”
“The Buddhist teachings help us to see the basis of reality more clearly,” she continued. “Meditation tries to cut through all of our habits and concepts and viewpoints. This is the basis of freedom: to be free of all of the elusive qualities of our minds.”
“Meditation and Buddhist philosophy and understanding can lead us to personal freedom, which in turn can help us to take very positive actions in the world.”
The Martha’s Vineyard Bodhi Path Buddhist Center is one of dozens located throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Australia. Bodhi Path was founded and directed by Shamar Rinpoche, who died in 2014. Bodhi Path centers provide a nonsectarian approach to Buddhism.
According to the Bodhi Path website, “people of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs come together to listen to Buddhist teachings (Dharma), practice meditation, and experience the relevance and benefits of Buddhist philosophy and meditation in daily life.”
In addition to his work as a spiritual teacher and meditation master, Tsering Ngodup, who will lead this weekend’s teachings, is a chaplain at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “He leads a lot of groups for people with cancer or other medical conditions, and people in all sorts of situations,” Ms. Gamsby said. “What I noticed about his teaching last time is that he’s really great at talking about how Buddhism can apply in real life and to recent suffering.”
The Martha’s Vineyard Bodhi Path has had a relationship with the Boston-based teacher since its founding in 1999. “He was a translator who would come here with the founder,” Ms. Gamsby said. “He’s been involved with translating and teaching for over 20 years.”
Tsering Ngodup was born in Tibet. As a child, he and his family were part of the mass exodus after the Chinese military invasion of Tibet. At the request of Shamar Rinpoche, founder of the Bodhi Path Buddhist Centers, Mr. Ngodup moved to Germany to translate and interpret for high Tibetan lamas, and was then asked to continue his teachings and translations in the U.S. He established the Bodhi Tree Institute in Cambridge in 2003.
Mr. Ngodup maintains a relationship with the Martha’s Vineyard Center, visiting the Island every couple of months to teach.
This weekend’s sessions will not be as strictly structured as one might imagine. “Each is different. You can come to any part. You can come at any point,” Ms. Gamsby said. “There’s no registration. It’s all donation-based. It’s appropriate for anyone. Bodhi Path is nonsectarian.”
Each session is two hours. “Tsering will lead us in meditation and verbal teaching,” Ms. Gamsby said. “Each will inform the other.”
As with all of the meditation sessions, people are free to come and go as they please, as long as they are quiet and respectful. Generally the sessions include three 15-minute periods of meditation, broken up by short teaching segments.
“We’re not rigid,” Ms. Gamsby said. “People can move. People come in in the middle. People leave. It’s about being present. That’s being present. What you’re learning to do is to be aware. We actually meditate with our eyes partially open — trying to be present where we are.”
“One of the founder’s main teachings to us was flexibility. Things change. Flexibility is the best thing we can have.”
For more information, contact the Bodhi Path at 508-696-5929 or bodhipath.org/marthasvineyard.