It all started with an Englishman's encounter with a Tibetan monk in London in
1979. Andrew Mitchell moved to Canada and continued his investigation of
Buddhism. A few years later, he was visiting Scotland and again spent time with
Thrangu Rinpoche. He asked Rinpoche about starting a dharma group in Edmonton,
Mitchell's new home, and with Rinpoche's encouragement, he did.
"Looking back, I didn't have much experience or qualifications to start a
group," recalls a laughing Mitchell, a retired engineer. But he followed his
heart and placed a notice in the The Journal's religion calendar. Several people
attended, an eclectic group that included a theosophist and a woman named Usha
Celebrations this fall will mark the 25th anniversary of the Karma Tashi Ling
Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Society in Edmonton. A highlight will be a
special visit Nov. 4 to 6 from Lama Pema Tsewang, the abbot of Thrangu Monastery
in Richmond, B.C. The organizations are connected through their spiritual
Sitting with Mitchell around the kitchen table at Karma Tashi Ling, which is
housed in a split-level home at 10502 70th Ave., are Charles Schweger, professor
emeritus with the University of Alberta's department of anthropology, and
resident lama Ani Kunsang, a nun who moved from Nepal in 2005 at the request of
The group recalls their memories of how this small organization in Edmonton
began.Mitchell remembers the impact of his first visit with Rinpoche in
London."It was Rinpoche's first visit to the West," recalls Mitchell, who then
called England home. "I felt a good connection with Rinpoche and asked if I
could be his student."
The group began meeting at the Oliver Community Centre and then at Usha Singh's
home before renting a "poky little room in a basement on Whyte Avenue," recalls
Mitchell. "We had to walk down a long forbidding corridor, down a set of stairs,
and through janitor's room." Schweger laughs."In retrospect it was embarrassing
to have Rinpoche visit."
But having a group that could meet regularly under instruction from a great
master was what really mattered. It was in this humble location that Schweger
found the group rekindled his Buddhist practice through his connection to
Rinpoche. Schweger, Mitchell and Singh are the founding members who remain with
the society 25 years after its birth.
Schweger had been interested in Buddhism for many years. "In the early 1970s a
group of us would jump into a VW van and head to Boulder, Colo., to hear Chogyam
Trungpa Rinpoche, one of the first Tibetan Buddhist teachers in the West,
teach." Yet, aside from these trips, Schweger was without a teacher.
"You have to make a connection with the dharma, and you need some confidence and
security in that connection. That can best be done with a teacher," he explains.