Location

On the way to the Tibetan Institute stands the factory of Jacques Kuhn, through whom the Centre was made possible.
The Tibetan monastery is built in a contemporary style.
The drawing on the pavement outside the entrance of the Institute shows the Buddhist Wheel of Dharma. The eight spokes represent the Noble Eightfold Path.
 

Rikon in the Töss valley is a tiny hamlet with a population of 1400. There is no sign of any religious buildings… There is nothing to see other than the «Kuhn Rikon» factory near the station.

However, not everything is as it seems. Whoever is in search of a Tibetan monestary on the site of this metalwork factory is closer than they think. Firstly, the history of the monastery is closely interwoven with the history of the factory. Secondly, the factory shows the way to the monastery building.

After a twenty minute walk along a narrow forest path overgrown with pine trees, a four-story building with modern architecture appears. One is greeted at the entrance by a Buddhist «Wheel of Dharma» flanked by two golden gazelles. It is sketched with a flourish on the stone pavement, reminiscent of a mandala. It is clear that one is not dealing with a spa hotel. No, this is a Tibetan monastery.

«In all practical ways the style is consistent with Tibetan architecture: The windows are deep-set into the façade, and brown-red covers the attic floor. […] With its surrounding balcony and flat roof, the gilded Stupa, or Gèndschira gives this cubic building its foreign accent.» Writes Peter Lindegger in the study, «20 Jahre Klösterliches Tibet-Institut Rikon/Zürich» (1988, S. 15.) 

On the way to the Tibetan Institute stands the factory of Jacques Kuhn, through whom the Centre was made possible.

Rikon in the Töss valley is a tiny hamlet with a population of 1400. There is no sign of any religious buildings… There is nothing to see other than the «Kuhn Rikon» factory near the station.

However, not everything is as it seems. Whoever is in search of a Tibetan monestary on the site of this metalwork factory is closer than they think. Firstly, the history of the monastery is closely interwoven with the history of the factory. Secondly, the factory shows the way to the monastery building.

After a twenty minute walk along a narrow forest path overgrown with pine trees, a four-story building with modern architecture appears. One is greeted at the entrance by a Buddhist «Wheel of Dharma» flanked by two golden gazelles. It is sketched with a flourish on the stone pavement, reminiscent of a mandala. It is clear that one is not dealing with a spa hotel. No, this is a Tibetan monastery. 

Architectural History and Reasons for Development

Flags fly in front of the building in typical Buddhist colours.
The entrance to the institute. The Wheel of Dharma, a central Buddhist symbol, stands above the door, flanked by two gazelles.
Prayer wheels are turned by the faithful. The rolls contain religious texts.
 

More than 100,000 Tibetans fled Nepal and India after the uprising of 1959. Switzerland was the first western country to accept 1000 Tibetans, in collaboration with the Swiss Red Cross. The brothers Jacques and Henri Kuhn provided work and accommodation to Tibetan refugees in October 1964. However, the unfamiliar cultural environment for the Tibetans would lead to intergenerational conflicts. The young Tibetans were fascinated by western culture and modern consumerism, while their parents and grandparents remained committed to traditional values. Henri and Mathilde Kuhn-Ziegler decided to travel to India, to explain the situation to the Dalai Lama. This trip gave them the idea to bring a group of Tibetan monks to Switzerland, in order to offer the Tibetans their familiar monastic structures and spiritual mentors.
The entrance to the institute. The Wheel of Dharma, a central Buddhist symbol, stands above the door, flanked by two gazelles.

Flags fly in front of the building in typical Buddhist colours.

Prayer wheels are turned by the faithful. The rolls contain religious texts. 

The entrance to the institute. The Wheel of Dharma, a central Buddhist symbol, stands above the door, flanked by two gazelles. 

Initially, the abbot Geshe Ugyen Tseten and four monks were accommodated in a farmhouse. Jacques Kuhn notes «It is incredible what a positive change has been brought about. When we saw this, we made the decision that we had to see it through.» The brothers subsequently established the Tibet Institut Rikon Foundation in 1967, which included a CHF100,000 endowment, and the land necessary for construction. Although construction was initially delayed, as the land lay outside a building zone, a special permit was eventually acquired, and building began in July 1967. Kuhn recounted, «The whole community were positive, and the Tibetans were welcomed with open arms.» Thus, in a clearing of the Töss valley, the first Tibetan monastery in Europe was inaugurated in September 1968. 

The Face of the Building

Jacques Kuhn

Jacques Kuhn is now honorary president of the Foundation Board. Along with his brother Henri Kuhn-Ziegler, who died in in 1969, he was instrumental not only in establishing the foundation, but in the realisation of the monastery: with a shortfall of CHF 210,000 from building costs, the brothers decided to cover the sum. Jacques Kuhn is committed to the foundation to this day: «I have a relationship from A to Z with the Institute.» Besides the monastery, he has also been involved in building a library collection, extending the land, and erecting a stupa.
 

Neighbourhood and Conflict

Surrounded by nature, the Tibetan Institute is located on a mountainside. Even in the West, Buddhist monasteries prefer seclusion.

Kuhn describes the relationship with the local community as positive. «In forty years I have never received a complaint that anyone is disturbed by the building.» According to Kuhn, it was vital to provide information to the surrounding community. «One must explain why we are here, and for what purpose.» Events were organised in 1963, several months before the Tibetans arrived in Rikon, in which the community were informed about Tibetan culture, and the political situation in Tibet. Because of this, there was never any local resistance to the monastery. 

Religious Tradition

Prayer flags with text, typical to Tibetan Buddhism, flutter in the woods.
A stupa, which can be varying sizes, originally contained relics of the Buddha. Today, the stupa is used as a monument, representing various aspects of Buddhist teaching.
A Buddhist shrine room within the building. In the brackground, butter lamps burn in front of portraits of bodhisattvas. Offering bowls can be seen in the foreground.
 

Based on Indian-Tantric Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddhist teaching and practices of Tibet has developed its own distinct character. Through reinterpretation of the popular practices of the Bon religion, Varjrayana Buddhism, translated as «Diamond Vehicle», was developed in the fifth to seventh centuries. The Lama, or «high standing teacher», has an important role; practitioners take «refuge» in him, and he passes on higher teachings to them. The Tibetan pantheon has a large number of deities. These represent the different aspects of the Buddha (Yidam), with which the Buddhist adept should identify. Central to this endeavour is the personal commitment in Vajrayana to employ «skilful means» to help the «suffering being.» These include the ideal of «loving compassion», and of seeing all phenomena as «emptiness» (shunyata).

Tibetan Buddhism can be broadly categorized into four main traditions. They are all represented in Europe, mostly strongly in Switzerland by the Karma-Kagyu and the Gelugpa traditions. The monastic institute at Rikon emphasizes the study of Buddhist texts and following of the rules of the order, as is typical of the Gelugpa. This is understood to be «interdisciplinary», however, as teachers and Lamas from various traditions live and teach within the monastery. The Gelugpa is the youngest, but currently the largest of the Tibetan Buddhist schools. Since the seventeenth century it has been the most important religious and political group in Tibet. Its leader carries the title «Dalai Lama», or «Ocean of Wisdom». Successive Dalai Lamas are understood to be a chain of reincarnations of Avalokiteshvara, the godhead of «boundless compassion». 

Special Features

The library at the Tibetan Institute houses over 12,000 titles, making it the second largest Tibetan library in the world. Another feature is the commitment to the initiative «Science Meets Dharma», which originates with the Dalai Lama, who wanted to bring the Tibetan culture into lively contact with western science. This initiative gives access to scientific education for Tibetan monks and nuns in exile, as well as promoting dialogue between Buddhist philosophy and science through public events.