Deer Park has organized and hosted special programs for a variety of socially engaged groups. These exchanges have proven rewarding for all concerned and have provided a template for further programming in this area.
In September 2006, we held a retreat for 30 Burmese community workers, under a Grassroots Leadership Training project in partnership with Wongsanit Ashram, Thailand. The program included teachings and discussions on engaged Buddhism and social issues with Tibetan Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche and Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo. As part of this project, we also facilitated their exposure to organizations in Ladakh working in areas of ecology, renewable energy and education.
Every summer since Deer Park opened in 2006, we have held Engaged Buddhist Retreats for youths from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra and other parts of India. These 7-day retreats are conducted entirely in Hindi and cover areas of Buddhist thought, tenets, history, meditation, education and social action. Hindi-language Buddhist programs are rare in India, and enthusiastic feedback from participants has inspired us to continue this retreat on an annual basis. These retreats are one of several collaborations between Deer Park and the Youth Buddhist Society of Uttar Pradesh (www.ybsindia.org), Nagaloka Institute of Nagpur and other organizations. Leading these gatherings have been resource persons such Samdhong Rinpoche, Ravi Gulati (of Manzil NGO), Raji Ramanan, Ven. Summati (Root Institute), Naresh Mathur and other noted Indian thinkers, social workers and ecologists.
In 2007, seven young boys from the Youth Buddhist Society in Uttar Pradesh contacted Deer Park, expressing the wish to study Buddhist philosophy and take monastic ordination. Under Mingyur Rinpoche’s guidance, they spent two months in Deer Park receiving training in Tibetan language, English, basic meditation and orientation in Buddhist sangha life, before taking ordination and going to continue their studies in Bodhgaya.
Over the past three years, Deer Park has also hosted several interns from the Youth Buddhist Society. They have worked on various projects, from teaching meditation to villagers and supporting local farmers, to running workshops for children on domestic violence.
In June 2007 and May 2010, Deer Park hosted a workshop called ‘Science for Monks,’ organized by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA, Dharamsala, India). This project, under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, involved a dozen prominent professors and scientists from universities in the US, Canada and India, and over 50 senior Buddhist monks. (www.scienceformonks.org)
In November 2007, two dozen youth leaders, activists and change-makers from different parts of India gathered at Deer Park to celebrate their journeys and share their unique perspectives, in a ‘Leveraging Privilege for Social Change Jam’.
In 2008, Deer Park hosted several educational exchange groups. A group from the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) in Dharamsala spent 3 days here in October, learning about environmental issues through arts, games and field excursions. In November, a group of American college students from the organization Carpe Diem spent 10 days learning about Buddhism and Indian culture, and also helping out with Deer Park’s ecology and handicraft projects. A further two groups from this educational organization visited at Deer Park in 2009.
In December 2008, we hosted a large interfaith group from Sri Lanka. This re-conciliation retreat was jointly organized by Deer Park and Sewalanka Foundation (www.sewalanka.org). Participants in this meeting were leaders from Hindu, Christian and Buddhist communities, who are committed to creating lasting peace in Sri Lanka. Through dialogue, workshops and an audience with HH Dalai Lama, the group explored ways of learning from the non-violent movements of the Tibetans and Gandhi, to create a new paradigm for peace in their own war-torn country.
In 2009, we began a new series of engagements and partnerships with Pravah (www.pravah.org), a youth organization based in Delhi that supports adolescents, youth organizations and institutions working with young people to impact issues of social justice through youth citizenship action. For 5 days, Deer Park hosted over 50 youths who spent time on the campus learning about ecology, Buddhism and other local concerns, as well spending two days in home stays in the local Indian and Tibetan communities.