Lama Eric Triebelhorn’s return to KCC opened a new chapter in his remarkable Dharma journey. He found his way to KCC 25 years ago and enthusiastically embraced the Buddhist training and service that would become his life. After a 17-year sojourn in India filled with study, retreat, and translation, he began service as Resident Teacher at the beginning of 2020.
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While at college in Ohio, Eric Triebelhorn encountered Buddhism at age 19 and was instantly captivated. Through his own reading and the few classes that were available, he began to find that the basic tenets and views of the Dharma rang true in a profound way. He knew, even in those early days, that Buddhism was going to be the most important thing in his life. After graduation, while working for a YMCA camp in Massachusetts, he checked out different centers and teachers in the Zen tradition, imagining that would be his path. But nothing clicked.
Feeling the west coast might provide more opportunities, he turned down a promotion and moved to Portland in 1995 where he had a few friends in the city and relatives nearby. It was here, he says, that his "karmic carpet started to unroll". Still not feeling a connection after a visit to a local Zen center (punctuated by his collapsing on numb legs at the end of a long, silent sit), he branched out in his search. Finding KCC on a list of area centers in a book at Powell's bookstore led, with surprising ease, to a meeting with Lama Michael. Lama Eric says he was "hooked" after having the experience in that meeting that "I found someone I could trust and who I knew knew more than me". He started attending practices and went on his first retreat-- tonglen, at Cloud Mountain.
As he says, KCC is the dharma community he "grew up in". And grow up fast he did! A few months after starting to attend KCC, Eric was offered a room at the center and (surprised that we would warm to a stranger so quickly) soon moved in.
The timing coincided with Bokar Rinpoche's accepting KCC's fervent request to give his Mahamudra Seminar in Portland which would occur just a few months later, in June, 1996. The 10-day retreat was held on the Lewis and Clark campus and included 200 people from multiple states and countries. It was a significant milestone for KCC and had a profound impact on Eric--he met his root teacher and embraced the practice commitments.
Eric got into the thick of the organizational life of KCC quickly as well: early in 1997, (to the mutual surprise of everyone) he agreed to step in when KCC needed a new President of the Board. Taking on this responsibility at age 25, he learned quickly and developed key skills involved with working within a group like KCC under the mentorship of Lama Michael. It was also later that year that Eric went to Bokar Rinpoche's seminar in India for the first time, initiating a long connection with pursuing the dharma in the land of its birth.
KCC was in a period of visioning, expanding, and tackling new goals. Eric was part of the process to define our first mission and vision statement and helped re-write the organization's by-laws. A key element of the vision was to find land and develop facilities for long retreats. Eric was a member of the task force that conducted the search and purchase of Ser Cho Osel Ling, and became the first resident caretaker of the facility. Several "tent retreats" were held during his tenure, and construction of infrastructure got underway.
Eric's wish to practice intensely put him on the roster for KCC's planned three-year retreat, but on a trip to India at the end of 2001, he glimpsed another possibility. Bokar Rinpoche shared with the KCC contingent that he was also in the process of building a Shangpa Kagyu retreat center. The thought of doing that retreat under the direct guidance of Rinpoche firmly planted in his being, Eric decided to leave SCOL and travel to India to learn Tibetan as fast as he could, knowing that without that basis, it would be pointless to ask Rinpoche for permission to enter the retreat. He spent a year studying intently, first in Darjeeling and then in Kathmandu, all the while repeatedly approaching Rinpoche and making his audacious request. Thus began a seventeen year sojourn in India.
Eric did receive permission (unprecedented for a Westerner) but suddenly, in August 2004, six months before the three retreat was to start, Bokar Rinpoche died. This was a terrible blow to all his students and certainly for Eric. After deep reflection, Eric determined that, in spite of this, he would still undertake the retreat, now to be led by Khenpo Lodro Donyo Rinpoche.
After completing the retreat in 2008, Lama Eric was based at Bokar Monastery and spent significant time in service to Khenpo Rinpoche and other masters of the lineage. Several years of this service fulfilled the traditional way of repaying the opportunity to do the retreat. He translated Rinpoche's book on Tara, biographies of Bokar Rinpoche, and other publications. He served as translator for annual seminars led by Khenpo Rinpoche and seminars that Gyaltsab Rinpoche offers to foreign students in Sikkim. He attended and helped translate at the annual Kagyu Monlams (prayer festivals) and received many teachings and transmissions from lineage masters. As time went on, Lama Eric was keen to stay close in anticipation of the coming of the reincarnation of Bokar Rinpoche. The young tulku was finally identified in 2015, and Lama Eric enjoyed serving as his English tutor and playmate.
During these later years in India, Lama Eric had continued spending some time in Portland each year and keeping in touch with the KCC community. Ever dedicated to pursuing practice, he did annual personal retreats, including a solitary year-long retreat in Oregon and a five-month retreat in New Mexico, and made pilgrimages to Tibet. He accepted just a few of many requests to give teachings and retreats, including several at KCC.
By 2019, now aged 48, Lama Eric felt his time of staying in India coming to a logical close. Soon the young Bokar Rinpoche would be going off to monastic college. When asked if he would be willing to return to serve as Resident Teacher at KCC at a major juncture in the center's history, it felt right to agree to consider it, to offer to be that someone who might be there for a seeker like he had been 25 years before. Following an interactive process of "investigation" and selection as provided for in the bylaws, Lama Eric accepted and assumed the position as of January 1, 2020.
Lama Eric brings great enthusiasm for practice, a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience, and strong connection to both the lineage and the KCC community. Many are taken by the clarity of his teachings, his good nature, comfortable humor, open spirit, and thoughtful yet direct style. It is our great good fortune to have Lama Eric's capable and inspiring leadership as KCC embarks on its next chapter.
If you have been to KCC already and would like to arrange an in-person meeting with Lama Eric, you can do so by clicking the Schedule Appointment button below.