Padmakara Garden: A Lotus Beginning to Unfold

Padmakara Garden:  A Lotus Beginning to Unfold

November 28, 2020


Dear Community and Friends,

A big thank you for your support and to our dedicated Padmakara Garden team, who have been sheltering-in-place and working safely on site through the turbulent months of 2020.

Since our last update, large decorative boulders have been selected and nudged carefully into place via forklift. The main stairs to the garden have been framed and poured with terracotta colored concrete. A pump and filtration system for the pond and waterfalls has been installed. A crisscross grid of steel rods has been woven into the foundation of the plaza and the walkway around the Prayer Wheel House and covered in concrete. The latest touch has been mortaring stone (Santa Barbara split stone and Mount Moriah wall stone) into place on the fountain wall, a task requiring artistry, a discerning eye, strong arms, and the occasional chiseling. 

Next is the final layer of the plaza itself, which will be laid with Peruvian stone and feature a lotus design at its center.

Our small group of residents, who practice, live, and work together, celebrated the harvest in a spirit of gratitude on November 26, 2020 with a plentiful spread of vegetarian food, and the completion of the fountain wall, which was turned on for the first time that day!

Though we will remain closed to the public until it is safe to reopen, our vision for a beautiful contemplative space is starting to come to life, and we look forward to holding classes in the garden—meditation, Kum Nye Tibetan yoga, and other fields of study—as well as simply offering a space of refuge and beauty to you, our students, and the local community to visit, reflect, and practice in.


Warmest wishes, 

Your friends at the Nyingma Institute

The Garden team:  Yuji, Kris, Katie, and Emily

The completed fountain wall (short video!)

Autumn celebration with residents

From left to right:  New stairs to the garden; the steel rod grid underlaying the plaza; after the concrete pour; affixing stone to the fountain wall. 

Meet Katie!

May 19, 2020

Hello there!

Katie here, I’ve been a part of the Nyingma community for about three years now. I was first introduced to this special organization through volunteering at Odiyan with my other half, Kris Klark. We joined the Garden Crew in September of 2019 after living on Maui for six months as property caretakers.

Our crew of Yuji, Kris, and I are beginning to see the space transform into what it will ultimately look like.  One part of the project that’s nearly complete is the construction of the pond. We just recently waterproofed it with a spray on liner called polyurea. I’m told it’s essentially flexible enough to withstand even the strongest of earthquakes. We are preparing to install a pump and filtration system that will supply water to the six waterfall features that have been installed.  After that all that’s left is to face the wall in stone, which I’m really excited about.

In addition to the near completion of the pond, the electrical and drainage are all being put into place. Lots of digging. Whew. Luckily an excavator is on its way. We’re also preparing to pour concrete piers for the foundation of the stairs that will lead from the lower walkway up to the garden.

After volunteering at Odiyan for two years and being involved in sacred art and text preservation, as well as the simplicities of day to day life, I am excited to once again be involved with the Nyingma community and contribute to such a lovely project. Seeing this space slowly turn from a construction zone to a beautiful serene garden and place for practice is very satisfying. Our crew can’t wait until this space is complete so our community and public can finally be able to use it.

We have some work to do before the next blog post, but we look forward to sharing more updates! I hope everyone is as healthy and happy as they can be in these certainly unusual and frightening times.

With love,

Early Drawings & Coordination: Interview with Nathan

Early Planning & Coordination   

Interview with Nathan Galanter 

April 22, 2020


When did planning for the garden project begin?

Nathan: The seed of the garden project started much earlier but I began actual planning full time after finishing the drum project. All of us contributed our ideas together with Pema and Palzang and I started with that pencil drawing followed by the SketchUp model as well as that storybook [a presentation with reference images and a narrative of the garden’s intended use]. That was the start of March 2018. The first meeting with David Warner and John Wong at the Institute occurred a month later at the beginning of April 2018. It’s been over two years!

When did the vision of the garden take hold for you? What about the project has been most exciting for you?

I think I really started to see how encompassing the vision was as I was creating the 3D model. There were earlier drawings — I just found a transparency sketch dated Dec 8, 2016 — but it was during the modeling stage where all the different ideas were being worked out. There are so many parts to this project and hundreds of small decisions that have to be built up in line with each other in order to realize the full vision.

I am always interested in learning, especially when it comes to complicated problems and systems that are new and challenging. This project required a constant new education in various fields; a crash course in 3D modeling, building processes and materials, navigating the realm of city permitting, communication with contractors, or even just keeping on top of the budget and schedule.

It’s also inspiring to bring in professionals at the top of their field to help us realize this vision. Their sense of discipline, knowledge, attention to detail, communication, and dedication to the project even after several years is motivating. Also in project management it is necessary to be able to see the intended plan through each detail out to the end results so it is a great way to expand one’s own sense of vision. And of course I was also really excited about making sacred art!

What do you think might be interesting or helpful for other people to know about the process of bringing this project to life?

It was through community contacts and good luck that we ended up forming a relationship with our architect. That was an important moment that set the course of the project. (A similar combination of reaching out to our community and happenstance also gave us the great crew that’s bringing this vision into reality!) When tackling a project of this nature you have to work with many different parties. It can be a challenge to communicate with a multitude of contractors and city officials but it was really neat to see how willing people were to give information and aid in making the vision a reality if we remained patient with the process. After months of planning and waiting, finally seeing the permit accepted by the city was very gratifying for everyone!

The early stages of construction are usually messy and the foundation work done is mostly never seen [as it gets covered up by later stages]. However it is critical for supporting and protecting the functioning topical elements including all the sacred art and architecture. Seeing the heavy machines digging after so much planning was very cool.

By New Year’s, the very beginning of 2020, we hit the milestone of finishing 150 feet of retaining wall to protect the main building and that was very satisfying. A lot of difficult work was done and those pier footings reach 18 feet deep, so it’s going to protect the building for a long, long time. A month or so later we finished all the retaining walls on the site and so all of the landscape is now secure.

There is a good amount of construction still to be done, and of course we are all looking forward to seeing the finishing touches [including the stone veneers, landscaping, and sacred art elements]!

How do you think that this project is an extension of Rinpoche’s vision? How do you view your own work/service in relation to this? What are your hopes for this project, in terms of the intentions going out into the world?

The Padmakara garden project is an extension of the offerings of the lineage. It is one contribution, among many, to the manifestation of the Buddhadharma in our time. The impetus you might say came from the leadership of the Institute directors Pema and Lama Palzang, who initiated the concept and are providing the backbone of commitment to see it through. Groundwork was also laid by previous community efforts, resources, and leadership with the desire to transform the landscape into a space of sacred offering. Which in turn was all made possible by the Institute’s very existence created through Rinpoche’s visionary activity. His work to preserve and carry on the lineage of his teachers is on a vast scale. We have the opportunity to enter this field of merit in our work through projects such as this one. That is how I view my small part of service in the context of the garden’s creation.

The intention to manifest a beautiful space for inspiration, teaching, and practice is our guide and I hope the result is long lasting and of benefit for all the sentient beings who come to visit.

Sentient beings inclusive of both people and the local critters?

Yes! I look forward to seeing the goldfish and dragonflies enjoying the garden again. 


Begin Digging! A blog entry from Yuji

Begin Digging! 

By Yuji Matsumoto 

April 6, 2020

Hello everyone, this is Yuji here again, and this time I will tell you about the early days of construction. They say one must destroy to create anew, and while this isn’t always the case, it was for us. However, I’d like to think we were careful destroyers as we were able to salvage much of the material from the old garden. This included slate flagstone, wooden decking and boulders – materials we will make use of in future projects. It was still sad to see something beautiful go. I kept thinking about all the different incarnations this space had been, and all the hands that had put it together. It’s as profound as it is obvious, but it’s fun to think about a house, for instance, and realize that it’s made of tens of thousands of objects, each one placed right where it needs to be, one by one, by a person. 

Once we had salvaged what we could, it was time to bring in the machines and start digging. I love digging and I love machines so I was beyond thrilled at this point. We brought in expert help in the form of Dennis Robins, who is an experienced excavator operator and community friend. An excavator is basically a giant arm with a bucket hand, on wheels. Nathan and I mostly ran the skid steer, which is good at transporting material from one place to another. After removing old retaining walls, hidden masses of concrete and a few unlucky trees, it was time to start working on the first major part of the project: a retaining wall along the main house. 

Our beloved Nyingma Institute is located in the hills of Berkeley where retaining walls are a part of life. When one looks east, one is confronted by a hill, and the first priority of this project was to ensure that it stayed where it was. This retaining wall is nearly 200 feet long, running along the north and east sides of the main building. It is 6 feet tall, and I like to think of it as our guardian protector. Most visitors will never know it’s there because it isn’t very visible, but when all is said and done, it took a significant part of the project’s time and budget to construct it. I’ll try to not get too detailed about the process, but in order to build this wall we first needed to build a road down to it. This required removing hundreds of cubic yards of dirt. It also required some careful maneuvering as we were operating the machines inches away from the building. 

Once a space was cleared, we brought in drilling experts who dug holes 20 feet deep every 10 feet. These holes would later get filled with rebar and concrete to act as the foundation to the walls. They were also just wide enough that when one stood above them, one could imagine falling in. Serious yikes. I should also say that this was a point in the project where I was working almost entirely by myself. Dennis had gone back north, and Nathan, though involved still with the logistics of the project, had transitioned to life outside of the Institute. A former student John Klein would volunteer a few times a week and he was a great help, but it was mostly just me. I would hop into the excavator, scoop some dirt into the skid steer, then hop into the skid steer and drive it away. But together, John and I wove an intricate web of rebar tying all the holes together, and it is here that I will end this entry. Kris and Katie will be writing the next few blog entries, so I’ll see you again in a little bit. 

Next time: Inspections, concrete, and the arrival of Kris and Katie! 

Padmakara Garden Planning: A blog entry from Yuji

Padmakara Garden Planning 

By Yuji Matsumoto 

April 4, 2020

Hello, my name is Yuji and I am part of the residential community and a full-time staff member at the Nyingma Institute. My current duty, along with fellow residents Katie Black and Kris Klark, is to construct our newly designed outdoor space, Padmakara Garden. The project is now past its halfway point, but we’ve decided to start blogging our experience to keep everyone informed about our progress … starting today! Without further ado, Padmakara Garden construction, raw and uncut.

But first, some background. The new space was dreamed up by our deans, Pema Gellek and Lama Palzang, in order to provide an accommodating outdoor area for practice and gatherings. The previous incarnation of the garden was beautiful, but lacked a large open space. Also, its retaining walls and substructure were beginning to fall apart, prompting a change. But where to start? Like all large projects, we needed architects and engineers to provide drawings and specifications. We also have former volunteer Nathan Gallanter to thank for getting the project started. Nathan, along with Pema and Palzang, teamed up with the landscape architects SWA [John Wong and Bill Hynes] to work on the design. [We also consulted with David Warner of Redhorse.] With the building permit in hand, only one question remained: who would build it? 

The Nyingma community has a rich history of working volunteers who have made everything from our large outdoor prayer wheel to the drums we use for chanting. However, it was clear that a project of this scale and complexity would also require professional involvement. After negotiations with local contractors didn’t pan out, the team reached out to longtime community member David French, who agreed to take on the job. David French is a general contractor who has helped to build many large projects for the Nyingma organization and its various centers. We are very grateful to have David on board. At this point, David and the Nyingma Institute still needed to find people to actually do the physical work. Who would they be? Kris, Katie and Yuji. [Yuji joined the team full-time at Nyingma Institute around August 2019, followed by Kris and Katie in September 2019.] 

Kris and Katie will have their opportunity to introduce themselves in future blogs, so I’ll take mine now. I’m Yuji. I grew up not too far from here in Sonoma County, and went to college in Berkeley. I lived a few blocks down from the Nyingma Institute while I was studying but didn’t discover it until I was looking for housing years later. Nyingma had just started renting out rooms to the public, and I was fortunate to secure one in February of 2018. It is a wonderful place with wonderful people – I fell in love right away. At the time, I was working for myself as a licensed contractor, doing whatever jobs came my way. I even did a few jobs around Nyingma, such as helping to renovate our second floor conference room and eventually recladding the outdoor prayer wheel with new wood. I worked with Nathan on these projects and it was a blast, as he is also an accomplished builder. When May of 2019 came around, we were issued our building permit for the garden and it was time to start digging. To make a long story short, I couldn’t resist a good project, especially one right at home. I now feel fortunate to be a part of this community and to be able to offer my skills.

That is all for this time, next time: Padmakara Garden construction begins! 

Getting Started & Clearing the Way

Getting Started & Clearing the Way

Garden Updates

First stage: demolition! Clearing the way to make room for the new foundations. 

Protecting the fish. One of the first things we did was to move the fish into a temporary abode; a large tank with a water filter and roof to prevent critters from playing with them. They will be returned to the pond after construction is complete. 

Renovating the Prayer Wheel House. We have replaced old rotting wood and made repairs to the frame of the Prayer Wheel House. 

This monument is one of the largest and first prayer wheels built in the U.S. and is unusual in its design.

Stay Tuned!