Karma Guen – The Andalusian province has a village dedicated to the religion that triumphs in East Asia, and two unique stupas in the Western world
Malaga (Spain) and tradition are two concepts that go hand in hand. The province is known as a welcoming place, and its premises are described as ‘open’ people, but also deeply rooted in their own customs. Among them are religious events. Christianity is the religion that marks unavoidable annual appointments and for which the Costa del Sol has an even more powerful fame. However, in its interior, the southern area hides a corner that has nothing to do with the teachings given in schools throughout its territory. A place that is far from the traditional concept…
Its name is Karma Guen, which translates as ‘the place where protectors live’, and it honors a geographical space far removed from the Malaga environment, located in Tibet, and known as the original point of Karma Kagyu Lineage Buddhism, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Transformation: from abandoned village to reference Buddhist center
Before being acquired by its founder, Pedro Gómez, a 71-year-old Spaniard from Salamanca, Karma Guen was nothing more than “a village in ruins” where the few members of a family lived and the owner of the land, an elderly man.
At first, the salamanquino bought the land to move and settle in the South of Spain, after long years of work and commitments in Denmark.
It was in the year 87 when the more than 100 hectares, located in the Trapiche district of the municipality of Vélez-Málaga, took a 360 degree turn and went from being a “dry” and practically abandoned field, to becoming an important center Buddhist, source in addition to many other centers that over time, have emerged in different parts of Spain.
At that time, says Gómez, “there was still no freedom of religion in Spain”, so the idea of building a Buddhist center was, for years, a challenge that was not one hundred percent hidden, but rather a bit of makeup. “I began to say that this was a place to preserve Tibetan culture,” a phrase that, when analyzed, does not address any falsehood either.
What is Karma Guen?
Karma Guen can be defined, according to Gómez (and any visitor who has experienced it in the first person), as the “Malaga Buddhist town”, to which some 10,000 people attend annually to obtain information about Buddhism and to get into the technique of meditation.
Getting to the area where it is located, next to the group of houses in Aldea Alta where there are more than twenty homes inhabited exclusively by Buddhists, is not an easy task. To access the space it is necessary to ascend about 5 kilometers to the top of a mountain, from where the view rests between flashes of light, peace, and a silence broken by the relaxing sound of nature.
As a real and complete Buddhist center, Karma Guen is composed of a retreat center, where it is possible to learn in depth the concept of meditation and to do retreats of different temporalities; a large meditation room, from which you can see and appreciate different components of Tibetan culture and Buddhist tradition through the centuries, as well as learn about the life of the Buddha; separate rooms for meditation; a research center, where you investigate how meditation works in the brain; a library; a text translation center; a painting studio; and a stupa, known as the Kalachakra Stupa, which is the first of its characteristics to be built outside the Asian continent.
In addition, from Lhovyt it has been possible to access a museum not yet open to the public, in which the history of Buddhism is explained over the last 2,500 years, and in which numerous figures and artistic pieces can be distinguished that are quite a emblem of the Buddhist religion.
For its part, it is expected that by the end of 2020, a Buddhist cemetery will be inaugurated in the area, in order to spread ashes of the deceased in a controlled way.
The steps to build Karma Guen were slow but steady. Its creator went “little by little”, and knew what he was doing. And it is that Pedro Gómez is somewhat unique. A special character in the good sense of the word. Of those who star in stories of books that can mark History.
An atypical journey: From friar to Buddhist
Gomez was an Augustinian friar before he was a Buddhist, so for much of his childhood and adolescence, he was rigorously marked by the demands of the Christian religion in its strictest time. “Do you remember the novel‘ The name of the rose ’?” He asks as he exhales the smoke from his second cigarette, freed from worry. “That of having to whip in public, the hair shirt …, well everything exactly the same.” “They were mentally very hard years,” he asserts.
However, being part of the Catholic Church is something that, according to Gómez, also had its positive side. “The monastery saved me, because if not, I don’t know what it would have been …”, he explains.
He entered the cloister when he was barely 10 years old, the result of a decision he made almost without thinking. “What I wanted was to be a bullfighter,” explains the former friar. “An Augustinian father came to the school to ask what we wanted to be when we grew up. He was mentioning profession by profession, and when he mentioned priest, I raised my hand. I don’t know why I did it, because I was not exactly the best example in the town… ”says Gómez.
After the impulsive gesture, a series of tests and an intelligence test arrived that made him the new member of the monastery, for better or for worse. “At that time it was a great opportunity to go to the monastery. I came from a very humble family, we were 14 children in total ”, explains Gómez.
It was the year 69, in the midst of the Franco era, when serious problems began for Gómez. After completing his novitiate and accepting the vows of a monk (chastity, obedience and poverty), his studies in philosophy and theology gave Gómez a power of reasoning that for his time, went far beyond what was normal, established or permitted. . “You had to believe to believe. They did not give you the margin to analyze and think. Faith is blind. That’s how it was, ”says the former friar.
But the more he read, the more contradictions they found in the sacred text. “He was not revolutionary. I just realized that what I was reading made no sense. ” That feeling, together with the extreme demands of the time that prevented him from even looking a woman in the eye when starting a conversation, ended Gómez’s patience, prompting him to ask for the dispensation that, after months of struggle , was rarely granted by Pope Paul VI.
When leaving the monastery, times became more than complicated due to the time and the situation in which he found himself, but life was not only that. What for Gómez at 21 years old were unknown corners around the world, they had endless adventures prepared for him…
After a time wandering around Europe, Gómez arrived in Copenhagen (Denmark). It is there where he finds love, where he learns to be a waiter and where he runs almost a dozen restaurants that take him to the very peak of job success.
The power of a book
Religion for Gomez was something that had been left far behind.
He sang on the street freed from what he lived as slavery, he had money, he loved his wife and his son Peter … Something that does not seem to have changed much since then.
And with everything calm, life again challenged him to change. But this time, on the way, Gómez was only able to find light and serenity. Who at that time was an Augustinian friar of the Franco dictatorship, came across what he describes as the total liberation from suffering. Buddhism appeared in Gomez’s life by pure chance.
The person responsible for the religion that triumphs in the eastern part of the Asian continent and Gómez met, was a waiter at his restaurant, a Catalan, not too old and “almost illiterate”.
Gomez encouraged his employee to learn to read and write while customers arrived, and he eagerly followed his helpful teachings.
One day, to show Gómez his progress in reading, the waiter offered him a book: “It’s incredible, you have to read it,” the employee told him. To which Gómez responded by accepting the proposal “simply out of kindness.” And from the first page until today. “The book sucked, but that’s what attracted me to it,” explains Gómez.
‘The third eye’, which talks about Tibetan Buddhism, awakened in Gómez feelings never before experienced, prompting him between the lines to experiment with the technique of meditation.
He did research on hitherto unknown religion and its methods, and played with the freedom it afforded him.
In one of his steps, he contacted the Danish lama Ole Nydahl, one of the most important figures who helped bring Buddhism to the West.
After visiting his meditation center, Gomez was conquered by Buddhism. “In Christianity I found contemplation, but not a method that helped me recognize all the emotions I feel, the essence of the mind,” he explains. This is how Gómez, promoted by Ole Nydahl, turns the Malaga village into Karma Guen, a Buddhist center that has been a before and after for Buddhism in Europe.
The expansion of Buddhism from the Axarquía
As a result of its inauguration, not only have other Buddhist centers emerged in Spain, but also buildings of great tourist and local importance have been created.
After the creation of different rooms in the center focused on meditation and the translation of texts of Tibetan origin, Karma Guen inaugurated what today is an essential point for those who visit “the Buddhist village.” It was in 1994 when the Kalachakra Stupa appeared, a place from where the wind emanates feelings of love and compassion.
Years later, the Stupa of Illumination was born, located in Benalmádena. This was inaugurated in 2003 after a visit by the emblematic former mayor of the municipality, Enrique Bolín (who died in 2018), who due to a series of coincidences, came to Karma Guen and asked for a replica or something similar for which forever, will be his city.
According to Gómez, “when Karma Guen was inaugurated, there was no Buddhist center in Malaga”. Now, the areas of the center of the capital, Marbella, Benalmádena and Torre del Mar, host one per municipality, spreading meditation techniques that, according to Buddhists, help to free oneself from suffering.
And it was with these series of circumstances that Malaga became a key point for Buddhism in Spain, even having unique stupas in Europe, and adding another tourist attraction to the province.
But is Malaga a Buddhist city?
After the data provided by Gómez the answer is easy to understand. With 10,000 visitors (and practitioners) per year in Karma Guen, of which only “about 50, maximum 100” are from Malaga, it can be deduced that Malaga is a province for Buddhists, but not for Buddhists.
Despite being able to experience it up close, the people of Malaga have not shown much interest in this spiritual trend, while the center is a success among foreigners.
Karma Guen facilities have more than 100 toilets and showers, and have come to accommodate up to “4,000 people at the same time”, in massive annual events that attract thousands of faithful “from all over the world.”
Those who stay temporarily to learn meditation or practice the technique, pay an average of 18 euros per day, while those who consider themselves residents (guests with stays of more than three months), pay 10 euros per day, the essentials to cover expenses.
Currently, in addition to the visitors, there are five university professors in Karma Guen from Germany, Poland, Russia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. All of them settle in the center temporarily from time to time, and act altruistically as translators of texts written in Tibetan that they translate into more common languages, such as English and Spanish. “The objective is to get to translate the 84,000 methods that Buddha gave and that are not yet translated. That is what we are trying to achieve ”, explains Gómez.
Malaga is tradition, but it also reserves a place for Buddhism. And it is that, says Gómez: “The way of thinking in the West is beginning to be very Buddhist” if we pay attention to the key principles of this religion. “We pay taxes so that everyone has something. That is compassion. ” They begin to believe more in the power of the mind and withdraw more and more from God’s concept of sin, hell. They already have a knowledge of what Karma is, they try to recognize the reasons for suffering and they analyze things more than before ”.
Although its inhabitants do not show an attachment to Buddhism, ‘knowledge’ about other customs ‘does not take place’. It is culture. And that is something that Malaga never evades.