In 1985, there was no vipassana centre in Brussels. The few people interested in this practice went to the Cambodian pagoda in Ixelles; the young bhikkhu who ran it was a meditator, a chance for all those interested in this practice.
At that time, the Venerable Rewata Dhamma, who had been the director of the Birmingham Buddhist Vihara since 1975, was teaching at the Tibetan Centre in rue Capouillet; he was well acquainted with European mentalities. His great erudition made him a high level teacher, capable of transmitting the Buddha’s teaching in a language accessible to Westerners. He promised the small group of beginners that we were to return regularly to Belgium and that is how Dhamma Group was born.
The meetings were held once a week, at the rue de la Duchesse in Brussels, to meditate and listen to the precious teachings of the teacher. This internationally renowned Burmese monk was the spiritual director of the group until his death in 2004.
It was a heroic time: meditators were rare, places to practice even more! Intensive vipassana meditation retreats were organised at the Centre for Tibetan Studies in rue Capouillet, at the Sri Lankan embassy, at the Vietnamese Linh Son pagoda, at the Trappist Abbey of Scourmont in the Ardennes and even at the rue de la Duchesse, the Vanderguchts’ private home, which was somehow converted into a place of accommodation! Finally, a small chalet lost in the woods of Oignies-en-Thiérache was to become the “Forest Monastery” of Dhamma Group.
The cottage in the woods and Mahasi Sayadaw’s school (1993-2003).
Since 1993, Dhamma Group has its own place to organise weekends and meditation retreats: a chalet that can accommodate a dozen participants. Dhamma Group then operated privately, in an artisanal way but with a lot of “saddha” (trust). Over the years, its activities have multiplied and the number of meditators has continued to grow.
At the same time, missions to spread the Dhamma (Dhammadhuta) of the highly meditative school of Mahasi Sayadaw were organised in Europe, Japan and America. It is in this context that a first 15-day retreat took place in 1999 under the guidance of Venerable U Kundala, a direct disciple of Mahasi Sayadaw. This monk, who is highly revered throughout Burma, thus launched a long series of retreats led by teachers trained at this school, who still respond positively to our invitations.
On March 7, 2003, the group was established as a non-profit organisation, with the aim of promoting all activities related to the Buddha’s teaching and more particularly the satipatthana-vipassana method of meditation as practised in Burma.
The group now had a legal existence, a dozen effective members and a board of directors. As a member of the Belgian Buddhist Union (UBB), it could offer Burma’s rich vipassana tradition the place it deserved. Marie-Cécile Forget was its first president. In 2004, the Venerable Rewata Dhamma awarded her the title of “kammathanacariya”, meditation teacher, and at the same time gave her the Buddhist name of Dhammadinna.
The centre of Rivière (2003-2011)
In 2003, Dhamma Group found a new location for its residential activities: a group of buildings located in Rivière, a quiet and wooded area, easily accessible by road or train.
The founder of the group, the venerable Rewata Dhamma gave it its name: “Dhammaramsi” (Light of Dhamma), “Vipassana Tradition of Burma”, in order to clearly signify the connection of the place to the rich Burmese tradition.
The successor to the Venerable Rewata Dhamma in Birmingham, the Venerable U Ottaranyana, was to continue the work of his illustrious predecessor. Today he still comes twice a year to Dhammaramsi, for an Abhidhamma-vipassana retreat in November and a Metta retreat in August.
In 2006, Sayadaw U Paññathami, a student of Sayadaw U Pandita from Yangon, accepted to succeed Venerable Rewata Dhamma as spiritual director of Dhamma Group. For ten years, he led retreats of two and then three weeks each year, providing unfailing support to the centre. For health reasons, he can no longer come today but still sometimes gives a teaching by videoconference from the faraway Australia where he lives.
The growth (2011-2021).
Renovation works are gradually increasing the centre’s capacity: a refectory will be built in the “Forge” in 2012 and a new meditation room under the roof of the former “Ferme du Moulin” in 2020. Nevertheless, in order to maintain the convivial atmosphere of the intensive retreats, the group intends to limit the number of participants to 35, including the team of volunteers.
Since 2011, Sayadaw U Thuzana has honoured us with his support. He leads a three-week retreat that attracts a loyal audience, especially from neighbouring countries. His guidance is particularly appreciated. Sayalay Daw Vajiranyani also contributes by leading a fortnightly retreat in Dhammaramsi every year. As a Westerner trained in Burma for 30 years, she is an ideal transmission agent between the two cultures. Sayadaw U Nanujjota also leads an annual retreat here. He has a very long experience in guiding meditators and his teaching is in line with Sayadaw U Pandita’s teaching.
The centre’s activities have grown in importance, the retreats are longer and more numerous: five retreats take place annually under the guidance of highly qualified teachers. Numerous weekends and days are organised. Meditation evenings take place between one and three times a week in Brussels, Rivière and Liège. Study cycles and pali courses are organised in the new library. Today, various associations are flourishing all over the world and are popularising the vipassana technique, the Mindfulness movement in particular draws its inspiration from it. Our association intends to continue within the framework of the Buddha’s teaching which aims above all at the liberation from suffering.
The era of the pioneers is coming to an end, a new era is opening up.