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Focus on Jan-Paul Kool
By Ven. Robina Courtin
Jan-Paul Kool is a familiar name in the world of FPMT centers: his clear, elegant photographs of lamas appear everywhere – on altars and in personal prayer books, in newsletters and magazines, in books. But he is less well known for his main work during the past sixteen years as treasurer of Maitreya Instituut and manager of its various projects.
“His initiative, perseverance and dedicated hard work are one of the main reasons for the development and success of Maitreya Instituut,” says Paula de Wys Koolkin, FPMT Board member and director of the Dutch center from its beginning in 1978 until 1993.
Founded by Lama Yeshe, the institute is the most stable and longest established of the Buddhist centers in the Netherlands. It is one of the few centers with a resident lama and an ongoing education program in Buddhist philosophy and practice in the country; its successful distribution company provides Dutch and English Dharma books and supplies to centers and shops throughout Europe; it translates and publishes books in Dutch; and its quarterly magazine Maitreya is now into its sixteenth year.
Jan-Paul has been one of the driving forces behind all these activities.
Inspired by the teachings of Dutch monk Marcel Bertels at his first Dharma course in Holland in 1977, Jan-Paul asked Marcel where he got his knowledge. “From Lama Yeshe,” he told him.
Determined to meet this lama, Jan-Paul attended teachings two weeks later at Manjushri Institute in England, receiving from Lama a Manjushri initiation and commentary. “Lama Yeshe’s equal has not been found,” says Jan-Paul now, recalling the impact he had on him.
Back in Holland he did a Manjushri retreat: “It was very powerful,” Jan-Paul remembers. “And I thought that if this can happen after simply listening to these teachings, what would be the result if one really meditated!”
His urge to hear more about this Mahayana path to enlightenment took Jan-Paul to India and Nepal. In Dharamsala he had his first meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama – and took his first photograph of him – and at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu he met Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche again.
Back home, he met the woman who would become his wife, Margot, in a pub: “We talked about nothing but Buddhism – and we’ve never stopped since!” laughs Jan-Paul.
Together they attended the teachings at Manjushri Institute later that year, 1978, of Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa and Song Rinpoche. After a failed attempt to get married at Gretna Green in Scotland, famous for its instant weddings, Jan-Paul decided to ask Lama Yeshe to marry them. “But I was nervous that he might say no, so I went over his head and asked Song Rinpoche to ask him. I knew Lama wouldn’t say no then!”
In the spring of 1979, just back from retreat in India, Jan-Paul and Margot were on a boat in one of Amsterdam’s canals. “We happened to pass Paula’s houseboat, and as we sailed by she shouted that Lama and Rinpoche would come to teach in Holland for the first time later that year and would we like to help prepare for the visit.”
Thus began his, and Margot’s, work for the lamas. The year before, Lama had already named the potential center Maitreya Instituut.
“Although we didn’t have our own place, Lama advised us to start a regular program of teachings and to advertise them in the form of articles in a magazine. Maitreya Magazine came from that idea.”
The first issue came out in December 1979; black and white, sixteen pages, with a drawing of Maitreya on the front. “We printed 500, and we sent it to about 250 people. We published it quarterly, always on time, and it’s grown steadily ever since.”
It has a circulation of 1,750 now among the small Dutch-speaking population: 1,000 subscribers and several hundred sold in book shops throughout Holland and the Benelux countries.
The magazine’s growth in readership and respect runs parallel to the development of the center itself, giving a high profile and credibility to Buddhism. “It is our calling card,” says Jan-Paul. He handed over the editorship to Hans van den Bogaert in 1991 when he and Margot took a year off to travel.
Maitreya Instituut was officially formed as a charitable foundation in December 1979, in time for preparations for the visit of the lamas. Paula was director, Margot secretary and Jan-Paul the treasurer.
“We worked together,” says Jan-Paul. “For the first two years, not having our own center, we met at Margot’s mother’s house. We would think about courses, make our advertisements, and rent space at the Theosophical Center, a large estate nearby. We did everything: cleaning, cooking, leading the meditations. And then we’d work on the next magazine.
Eventually they rented their own center. “And from the beginning we had a little book shop” – which started in a suitcase and has now grown into the successful Dharma distribution business, one of the financial mainstays of the center.
It was just a question of time before the institute would start publishing its own books. Very little Buddhism existed in Dutch, so the need was there. The first title was a joint effort, in1980, between Wisdom in London and the Dutch, Italian, Spanish and German FPMT centers: the story of the Buddha, Prince Siddhartha, written by Jon Landaw and illustrated by Janet Brook.
“Our share of the 10,000 print run was 1,000,” remembers Jan-Paul. We sold at least 400 to libraries around the country. And we now have reprinted it.” Since then they have translated and published books by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa and others.
By 1984, the center was working well. They had moved to a place in Maasbommel, but still rented. “In 1986 Rinpoche suggested that it was time to buy our own center. I was shocked! I felt it was an impossible job, so expensive. But after six months, we found a place that was affordable, a friend gave us a large loan and our bank manager, who liked us, loaned us the rest.
“It’s a lovely place. Set in seven hectares of land in a beautiful quiet area of the country, it had been a youth hostel – perfect for us.” The center can accommodate ninety people.
“We managed financially,” says Jan-Paul. “In fact, we never have been in debt” – Jan-Paul is renowned as a good money manager.
The center flourishes. Geshe Sonam Gyaltsen, the resident lama, teaches the very successful ongoing Basic Program of Buddhist Studies, as outlined by Lama Zopa Rinpoche – some courses have 100 students enrolled; there is a full program of year-round courses.
In January 1993 Jan-Paul and Paula were asked by Lama Zopa Rinpoche to step down from their positions at Maitreya – of treasurer and director respectively.
“Rinpoche said he had been checking for some time,” says Paula, “and his observation was that it was beneficial for the institute as a whole that new people take our jobs.” (Margot, who had resigned as secretary the year before, declined Rinpoche’s suggestion that she be one of the new co-directors.)
“It came out of the blue,” remembers Jan-Paul. “At first it was difficult, but now I can see the benefits, certainly for myself.”
Jan-Paul continues to manage the projects of the center – publishing books, the distribution business, the shop. He reports to the board every three months. And he and Margot have moved from the center to a pleasant house nearby.
Since 1987, Jan-Paul has been devoting his considerable energy to the development of a Tibetan Medical project in Amsterdam. Paula de Wys is also actively involved.
He was inspired by his own success with Tibetan medicine. “In 1979 I began to suffer from arthritis during a boat journey to England to attend a retreat at Manjushri Institute. The pain began at the top of my chest, and then it got worse and worse, throughout my whole body.”
Before this, he had met Dr. Dolma, one of the doctors in Dharamsala. “I had observed how she treated patients. I remember thinking that if I ever needed a doctor I would go to her.”
He needed one now. Dr. Dolma sent him Tibetan medicine, which he took for four years. “For the first year the pain got worse,” remembers Jan-Paul. “But after that it gradually got completely better.”
The Dutch Foundation for Tibetan Medicine invites doctors from the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute in Dharamsala to Amsterdam. Doctors come four times a year for periods of one month to six weeks. A Tibetan doctor will be in residence permanently from 1996.
“We are open every day, and I work here two days a week.” He is the treasurer as well, and stocks and run the clinic’s shop: a replica, he says, of Maitreya’s.
Patients come every day for consultation when the doctors are there. The clinic’s excellent pharmacy dispenses medicine throughout the year. “We have treated at least 5,000 people since it started,” Jan-Paul says. “Certainly it is the biggest Tibetan medical clinic outside India and Nepal.”
Earlier this year the foundation hosted a meeting of Tibetan doctors and Western scientists and medical practitioners. “Our long-term goal is to authenticate Tibetan medicine in the West,” says Jan-Paul. It was very successful, and they plan to meet again next year in Switzerland. The foundation hopes to attract funding from the UN or the European Union for their research.
During Jan-Paul’s other three working days for Maitreya he continues to be innovative: “I have developed nice packages for very good quality Tibetan medicinal incense,” he says. “I have a representative on the road selling it, and friends in Scandinavia and England finding outlets. It sells very well in Holland.”
Some Dutch healers have discovered that certain Tibetan herbs have a strong effect on radiation. “Together we have developed a radiation absorber, which is sold by Maitreya. And we have plans to develop more items in this field.”
The future? Death is definite and the time of death is uncertain, as the lam-rim tells us. With that in mind, and, most crucially, the fact that what counts at death is one’s virtue, Jan-Paul has come up with Buddhist Life/Death Insurance.
“The objective is to make sure that when a person who has taken out this insurance dies, pujas will be performed immediately for their well-being in the bardo and to enhance possibilities for a perfect human rebirth.” The beneficiary of the policy would be the center through whom the insurance was organized. “There would be immense benefit for both,” he says.
Jan-Paul has much enthusiasm for this idea and wants the centers to pick it up and make it work. “I have to be sure that it will be carried on after my own death, so I cannot do it on my own.”
But if it is true, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche would say, that working in a Dharma center amasses great stocks of good karmic energy, then perhaps Jan-Paul has more than paid his insurance premiums already!
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