It was in 1981 when Pedro Gómez, originally from Salamanca and his Danish wife, Dorit, visited Aldea Alta for the first time. In those days it was just one of many farmhouses that had been abandoned in the Vélez-Málaga countryside. The opportunity to buy the estate, which comprised almost 80 hectares of land and a number of ruined buildings, arose. Pedro and Dorit were living in Copenhagen at the time and the original plan was to convert their new purchase into a holiday home.
After meeting one of the few western Lamas, Ole Nydahl, in Denmark in 1984, the couple started to convert to Buddhism. A few months later they invited Ole Nydahl to visit the Axarquía with them.
It was during that visit the idea of creating a Buddhist centre there was born and three years of intense work followed to convert the old farm buildings. The couple received their first visitors in 1987 and the centre was given the name Karma Guen.
Gómez says that he can’t say exactly how many people have visited Karma Guen over the last three decades. “Thousands, on average more than 5,000 per year ,” he estimates.
He isn’t able to say how much money they have invested in the complex either, which has become one of the most important in the western world within the secular branch of Buddhism called the diamond walk - from the Karma Kagyu tradition.
“It hasn’t been easy, but we do know that we are an international reference of Tibetan culture,”Pedro confirms. His Holiness the seventeenth Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje, the head of the Karma Kagyu school, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, is a frequent visitor and he was there just last month to commemorate the first three decades of the Vélez-Málaga centre.
The construction of the Karma Guen centre has taken place in different phases and still today, Gómez, who is 68, has a number of projects in mind for the complex, which is managed through a foundation.
In the early years, visiting Buddhists would sleep in converted farm buildings and little by little new constructions have been added.
One of the most symbolic and without a doubt, spectacular, is the Kalachakra Stupa (Buddhist building), which was opened in 1994 and built under the guidance of the great Lama, Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche. It was the first of its type in the West and started to attract more and more Buddhists. There are also two small caves “where people shut themselves in for days to meditate and have spiritual experiences,” says Pedro. Later, in 2003, the Benalmádena Stupa opened, which follows the same branch of Buddhism as Karma Guen.
Since 2004, the centre has also had a large ‘Gompa’,’ or temple, built where different courses are given throughout the year. The building is an offering to the current Karmapa Thaye Dorje; considered to be a reincarnation of the sixteenth Karmapa, who died in 1981. The construction of this building alone meant an investment of 800,000 euros.
At the end of August a translation centre, painting school, Tibetan museum and library, boasting a collection over 5,000 original texts, opened. The mayor of Vélez-Málaga, Antonio Moreno Ferrer, attended the opening, along with Thaye Dorje and Gómez.
In the last few weeks, more than 3,500 people from 62 countries have camped on the land belonging to the Buddhist centre in order to participate in the 30th anniversary events.