Gen Rinpoche's first visit took place in 1983, even before the Centre moved to Its present property, and before Gen Rinpoche had moved to NZ. We hired a house, strangely enough, directly opposite where the Centre is now, and hosted a weekend teaching there. From memory, Gen Rinpoche stayed with us for about a week in all. He was accompanied by his devoted attendant Kedrup, Felicity and Thubten Gendun and Cathi Graham, all of whom now reside in Dunedin.
We had organised for the brother of a local farmer to fly Gen Rinpoche and party in to the paddock airstrip at Waikawau Bay. Leon had his own small six seater plane and always took his little dog along with him wherever he flew. At that time he had recently had an operation and had a colostomy bag attached to his leg. The others In the party told me later they had serious doubts about the flight: coming In to land by the sea they could see absolutely nothing that resembled an airstrip. Together with Leon's medical condition, plus the dog flying and plus at one point the pilot's door opening and Leon reaching out to shut it in mid flight made it pretty hair raising!
My memories of that visit were of Gen Rinpoche and party and Roy, myself and our small children, sitting around the table after dinner at night. Roy and I soon realised that if we asked Dharma Questions, Gen Rinpoche would sit talking for a long time, but if the subject dealt with mundane worldly matters, he would quickly return to his room and his prayers. Gen Rinpoche loved outings -going for walks or driving in the car, picnics etc. He would raise his hand towards any animals we passed on these outings, murmuring blessings for them.
Both Roy and I clearly remember one evening sitting In Gen Rinpoche's room during that visit, and receiving an invaluable teaching. He said that all the effort and work that was put into Mahamudra Centre would be worth it, even If just one person received benefit from it. He advised us not to measure the success of the Centre in numbers. Always during difficult times over the years, I have remembered Gen Rinpoche's words from that night.
I also remember during that visit standing on the verandah one day looking out towards what was Novis' property across the road, thinking what a barren and stark property It was and feeling no attraction to it at all. Little realising that some years later, it would become Mahamudra Centre! And never dreaming it could become the beautiful park-like environment that it is now.
Gen Rinpoche visited the present property for the first time in October 1986 when he came to officiate at the fire puja held at the end of the one year Vajrasattva retreat we did to help clear hindrances to Lama Yeshe's rebirth. Prior to the puja itself, he gave some instructions on the practice. Early on the morning of the fire puja day, when preparing the site, Losang and Roy heard a loud discussion going on nearby, but couldn't see anyone around. When they checked with Gen Rinpoche, he said it was spirits discussing whether or not they would interfere in the ritual. At the end of the puja Gen Rinpoche commented that during the puja the sky had been full of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Gen Rinpoche always felt like a very dear father to the Centre. He seemed to keep a very watchful and caring eye on us and in fact during one of his first visits to the Centre told Roy and I that Lama Zopa Rinpoche had asked him to help take care of the centres in Australia and New Zealand as it was too much for Rinpoche to do on his own since Lama had passed away. Gen Rinpoche said he was happy to do this. Many times when we made monetary offerings to him on behalf of the Centre, he would return the envelope back into our hands and tell us to use it for the Centre.
Especially in the early days of Mahamudra Centre, when it relied heavily on the energy Roy and I put in, I found the encouragement Gen Rinpoche gave us vitally important. In sitting down to write this, I have a beautiful visualisation of Gen Rinpoche in my mind -he is sitting looking at us as he used to do, so kindly, always acknowledging the work we did in building up the Centre and giving us encouragement to continue.