Alhaurín el Grande
Friday, 17 March 2023
It is dawn in Alhaurín el Grande. In Camino de la Fuente del Perro, a rural area less than ten minutes from the town centre, daily prayers begin at 7.30am in one of the most unusual parts of this residential development: a Buddhist temple which stands out among the small houses and olive groves due to its height. Inside, residents practise the teachings of Buddha before the working day begins at 9am, the time when they all do something for the community.
At the temple, they are welcomed by Guen Kelsang Chokga, a Kadampa Buddhist nun and resident teacher at the temple, who is also the spiritual director of the New Kadampa Tradition for Spain and Portugal.
This branch, which adapts the teachings of Buddha to contemporary society, began in Spain 25 years ago. Now, Malaga has become world famous for this modern branch of Buddhism and the temple in Alhaurín el Grande is the largest of this faith in Europe.
Beyond the religion, it aims to be a space which is open to everyone who wants to explore meditation more deeply and free their mind from the stresses of everyday life. They can go as a visitor, volunteer, habitual resident or a student on a weekend course.
"We place the emphasis on meditation, on listening to the teachings and putting them into practice, and we want to be open to the public. You don't have to believe in it, simply try it, and if it works for you then use it," says Guen Kelsang Chokga, who started studying the teachings of Buddha in 1998.
Beside the spacious temple, which is very light due to the dome made of glass windows, stand three small buildings with the names of Buddha's pure lands: Potala, Tushita and Keajra. This area is the epicentre of life in the community, and is where the residents and visitors stay.
"At present about 20 of us are living here. There is a very good atmosphere and we all help out," says Stephanie, who runs the temple in Alhaurín and has lived there since 2014.
The community work begins at 9am and takes place in the different areas of the retreat. An image of the founding master of the tradition presides over the altar of the temple, where the teachings of Buddha are also located, with the books which are used daily in the meditations and offering bowls.
Mateo is in charge of tidying these and keeping them clean, and it is one of his favourite tasks within the community.
"In 2016 I started to study the tradition in Barcelona. Last year my partner and I came to a festival at this temple and we loved it, so now we are continuing our study programme here," says this former entrepreneur in the export sector who decided to change his life because its frantic pace was hard to cope with. "I was doing well, but I needed to stop. This life brings you a great deal of peace and tranquility," he explains.
Mateo is one of the habitual residents, those who do contribute something financially to the community. But another way of living this experience in the Alhaurín temple is to be a volunteer like Marina, 26, who is Argentinian. We talked to her in the 'café of peace', the cafeteria at the centre.
"I have come for a week. I'm not a Buddhist and I don't know much about it, but I heard about this temple at a meditation centre in Malaga and wanted to come and see what it was like. It has been a really good experience," she said.
Volunteers who come for a week work six hours a day. Outside working hours they can participate in the classes and meditation sessions organised by the centre, and they have two days off a week to explore the area or to rest.
About 11.30am it is time for a coffee break in the private dining room. All the residents and volunteers meet there as part of their coexistence experience.
"We chat and get to know each other better, for about 15 minutes," says Miguel, who returns to the kitchen once the break is over. He was an officer in the Local Police force in Granada and decided to change his life by taking a sabbatical which would enable him to live in the Buddhist centre in Alhaurín.
"I heard about this place a few years ago at a meditation centre in Granada. I felt I needed a new path in life; my work was really stressful. I started coming here to Malaga sometimes, and then an opportunity came up for me to stay. I enjoy cooking," he says.
These days there are 1,300 centres around the world where people can study and practise modern Kadampa Buddhism in the local language. Most are centres for study and meditation.
There are also six 'temples for world peace', based on the sacred mandala of Buddha Heruka, including this one in Alhaurín el Grande.
There are open days on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, including a guided tour and free meditation class.
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