I finally got to answer my own question: why are there so many Tibetan Buddhist retreat centers in the SW corner of France known as the Dordogne. I got in a car and drove there, from the elegant port city of Bordeaux.
Like many famed regions of France, this one is named for the river the meanders through it. Yes it is dotted with chateaus like the Loire in the Touraine, but it is uniquely lined with porous limestone cliffs that rise and fall abruptly along its banks. Medieval redoubts of yellow stone that glimmers in the sun were carved into those rock faces. Way before that, prehistoric humans huddled in their natural caves. This is the region of the famed primitive grotto paintings of horned wild animals that launched Western art.
The Vezere flows into the Dordogne as other smaller rivers do, making the land fertile for farming. It must have been a prehistoric paradise. It looks like paradise today: neatly tended fields, pastures of dairy cows, forests full of fungi, flocks of dock and geese, tiled roof stone farmhouses, massive stone block chateaux and water flowing everywhere.
It is so timeless, time disaappears. Buildings are referred to as Romanesque. This was the land at the heart of the Hundred Years War, the Aquitaine of Eleanor and her Richard, lion in winter. A hundred years of mass killing and destruction over passing thoughts that got stuck in someone's head. Some medieval villages still have their walls. The chateaus outside them are Renaissance. Only tourists, masses of them at times, disturb the peace in which this verdant land now rests in hard earned retirement.
The energy here is timeless. That must have attracted the great masters, Dudjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who set up houses a kilometer or so from each other on a lushly verdant hill looking over a valley in this prehistoric region, this stage on which the human drama has so long played. They set up retreat centers and stupas and I was fortunate enough to visit them, and be received with immense kindness and joy.
A gray haired nun from Tibet rules their roost in excellent English, abetted by a young Spanish nun and two Tibetan women from Darjeeling who look after the late masters' houses. Live-in volunteers too of course: everyone busy building a larger temple at Dudjom Rinpoche's house and a field of stupas at the three-year-retreat center. The land hhardly shuddered. None of this seems at all out of place up the hill from the village of Le Moustier with its boulangerie, stone church and auberge/restaurant.
Or maybe it was simply that the shabby cars and sometimes makeshift cabins were very familiar hallmarks of Dharma centers I know in the United States. People who want to pray hard and do good are not hedge fund managers. They are old shoes.
There are, as I said, a whopping number of retreat centers in the area and I was only able to visit one. But it was an infinite blessing to be so welcomed, fed, invited to circumambulate the stupa field in progress and to meditate alone in Dudjom Rinpoche's private shrine room just because I said I was a longtime Dharma student. I left a khata for the long life of my beloved teacher who will be 83 in another two days and dedicated the merit to everyone.
It was a magical moment to contemplate the headlines, before more horror came. A moment to remember that we may think our world is dark beyond measure from man's inhumanity to man, but in this ancient region, we are reminded that there have always been wars and violence and the primal aggression of males necessarily locking horns in bloodbath to dive into gene pool. A hundred years war, crusades, Revolutionary War, Franco-Prussian war, Civil War, two world wars and so on. So even with ISIS nothing's changed. Except that lands like this one of the Dordogne have been there, done that enough times to be over it now. Its hard earned peace and plenty are a huge sigh of relief.
May we all be as free of suffering as the Dordogne has become.