So you’ve finally saved up some holiday time and now you’re torn between pursuing enlightenment in retreat and finally making that long-desired trip to France. Relax. You can have your brioche and eat it too. France is a country where the dharma is flourishing, and there are centers to be found from Brittany to Burgundy, from Dordogne to Provence. Many of these offer teachings and retreats in English (often significantly less expensive than their American counterparts), either because the teacher speaks English or because the students are international. Listed below are just a few of the hundreds of centers of all sizes that dot the splendid French landscape.
Dharma Network Association (www.dharmanetwork.org) organizes Vipassana courses and retreats in Paris and throughout France, often with English-speaking teachers. Their calendar of events is generous and appealing. One of many highlights this year is a Vipassana retreat led by Venerable Bhante Henepola Gunaratana in the Paris area, scheduled for August 6 to 15.Telephone: 011 33 1 43 28 09 11.
If you’ve got the time and you really want to use some of it to sit,Centre Vipassana France, an S. N. Goenka center, offers ten-day silent retreats amid the green hills of Burgundy, in a former children’s summer camp. Of course, you won’t actually get to talk to the person you’ve been smiling at for nine days until the course is nearly over, but the crowd is pleasantly international and the taped audio and video teachings by Goenka are in English. Some of the teachers who lead retreats are English-speaking—you may want to inquire before you pick a date. Accommodations are dormitory-style, men on one side, women on the other. The vegetarian breakfast and lunch are taken in silence. This intensive, well-organized program is offered year round and is always full, so book early. Check out the website to learn more about the retreats themselves if you are not familiar with this kind of meditation. Be sure to ask for a map when you reserve – the center is particularly well concealed.Centre Vipassana France, Le Bois Planté, Louesme, 89350 Champignelles. Telephone: 011 33 3 86 45 75 14. www.dhamma.org.
Plum Village, Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh’s center, is divided among several different locations in beautiful southwest France. Look for the town of Ste. Foy la Grande on your map. The perfect place to cultivate gentle mind, it offers teachings and retreats year-round in English, French, and Vietnamese. Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen lineage emphasizes mindfulness and kindness in daily life; families are welcome. Single men can contact the Upper Hamlet at 011 33 5 53 58 48 58; single women can call the Lower Hamlet at 011 33 5 53 94 75 40 or the New Hamlet at 011 33 5 56 61 66 88. Couples and families may contact any of the above. There is also a temple, Son Ha Temple, but it does not accommodate guests. Addresses and all relevant information may be found at www.plumvillage.org
Tibetan Buddhism is particularly well represented in France, with many centers dating from its move West in the 1970s. Among them, Dhagpo Kagyu Ling, founded by the Sixteenth Karmapa, holds a three-week “summer university” taught by the Tibetan scholar Khenpo Chodrak Tenphel, simultaneously translated into French, English, Spanish, and German via headsets. Over a hundred people come yearly from Europe and the Americas to attend this program, which emphasizes the study of Buddhist philosophy and history and offers Tibetan language workshops. Here, too, accommodations are limited, although hotels, B&Bs, self-catering cottages, and other options can be found throughout this very tourist-friendly region. It’s a good choice for those who would like to study while the partner and/or kids are visiting the charming villages, prehistoric caves, and other attractions of the region. Know also that Dordogne is famous for its cuisine – even among the French—and wine flows freely here. Dhagpo Kagyu Ling, Landrevie, 24290 St. Léon sur Vézère. Telephone: 011 33 5 53 50 70 75. www.dhagpo-kagyu.org.
Students of the Nyingma lineage are also well catered to in this region, as there are centers founded by some of the great Nyingma masters of the twentieth century on the same hill as Dhagpo Kagyu Ling. Chanteloube, founded by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, is quite active although it does not offer accommodations. When lama and filmmaker (The Cup and Travelers and Magicians) Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche came there in 2004 to give teachings, people gathered from all over the world to attend. (He’s due back in 2006.) You can check out Chanteloube’s schedule atwww.chanteloube.asso.fr. Chanteloube, La Bicanderie, 24290 St. Léon sur Vézère. Telephone: 011 33 5 53 50 75 24.
Another way to go about planning your Buddhist foray into France is to choose a teacher and fit your holiday to his or her teaching schedule. Look into H.H. Drukchen Rinpoche’s program atwww.drukpa.org and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s at www.siddharthasintent.org. Both of these wonderful masters teach in English. Venerable Khandro Rinpoche often tours here; her program may be consulted at www.vkr.org. She is a highly respected teacher among Tibetan practitioners; her English is excellent; and if you’ve been yearning to hear her, this may be your chance.
According to the Association Zen Internationale in Paris, there are virtually no Japanese Zen retreats offered in English here—you’d have to go to Great Britain to find one. Maybe next summer…
As you will probably be landing in Paris, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the sumptuous Musée Guimet, (Musée national des Arts asiatiques-Guimet), one of the world’s finest Asian art museums. Founded in 1889, it is located in the ritzy 16th arrondissement, on the Place d’léna, across the Seine and up a bit from the Eiffel Tower, a short walk from the Trocadéro. Recently reopened after extensive renovations, the museum features art and handicrafts spanning thousands of years. The upper-level Chinese collection alone boasts 20,000 pieces. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by magnificent statues reminiscent of Angkor Wat and Borobudur. The Khmer pieces alone are worth the price of admission: nowhere else does the Buddha smile so very sweetly, nowhere else does enlightenment look so frankly happy.
Have a look at the website before you go; a preliminary virtual tour will help you decide what to concentrate on if time doesn’t allow for an extensive visit. Self-guided audio headsets are available in English and are included in the price of admission. Musée national des Arts asiatiques-Guimet, 6, place d’léna, Paris 16. Metro: léna (line 7). Telephone: 01 56 52 53 00.www.museeguimet.fr/gb/index.htm. The museum is open daily except Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; last admission is at 5:30 p.m.
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