Dalai Lama’s Visit Will Draw Native Leaders of the Americas
Tibetan Spiritual Leader to Consecrate Garden of 1,000 Buddhas—Build It and He Will Come
BY PAT HILL & DAVID LEWIS
When the Dalai Lama comes to Montana to bless the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas in Arlee next year, he'll be joined by indigenous peoples from the Americas on sacred Native American land upon which the garden is located.
“The idea [for the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas] originally came to Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, who is our teacher from Tibet, in a dream many, many years ago,” said Dr. Georgia Milan, a member of the Buddhist community of Ewam Montana in Arlee. “He dreamed of a place that would be an international pilgrimage site for peace and meditation.” Milan told the Pioneer that when Tulku Sang-ngag, a respected Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, passed through the Jocko Valley north of Missoula with one of his students “he saw this land and immediately recog-nized it as the land he had dreamed of.” She said the land the Buddhist teacher recog-nized from his dreams was purchased by one of his students [who wishes to remain anonymous] about 10 years ago, and work on the garden began soon after the land was acquired.
Milan said that Tulku Sang-ngag also recognized the “sacredness of that particular piece of land” that had been prayed over by many generations of indigenous peoples of the area.
“This land is on the Flathead Reservation,” she said, “home to the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d'Oreille peoples. They have been extremely helpful…we have been very welcomed by the tribal council, and in fact have their blessings.” Milan said that Ewam Montana is “very humbled to be allowed to be here,” and described the site with a certain reverence in her voice.
“When you stand on the land and you look around it's like standing in the middle of a lotus flower…the mountains are like the petals of a blooming lotus all around you,” said Milan, who happened to be working in the garden when she spoke with the Pioneer. “Where the garden is…it's the center of the lotus. The sky is just a beautiful blue dome shape overhead.” When completed, 1,000 two-foot-tall cast-concrete statues of the Buddha Shakyamuni will be arrayed around a 500-foot circular garden connected by eight spoke-like paths to a 25-foot statue of Yum Chenmo, or Great Mother, at its center. While the 1,000 Buddhas slated to sit within the garden are being made in Montana, a wall around the garden will be topped with 1,000 stupas (small reliquar-ies) being hand-carved from volcanic stone in Indonesia.
Milan has and will continue to visit Bozeman as part of Ewam’s effort to raise funds and awareness. She recently consulted with Greg Mortenson’s Bozeman-based Central Asia Institute as part of her outreach in support of the project, and has been meeting with Bozeman area residents regarding their participation. Bozeman’s Tibetan Buddhists have been helping create some of the many statues needed for the garden, and students of Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche like Susan Morgan look forward with great anticipation to the Dalai Lama’s visit and what it represents.
Bozeman’s Tibetan Buddhist community, while “not involved directly, is very supportive of the event,” Morgan told the Pioneer. “A lot of individuals are taking part, going up to Arlee, making Buddha statues, contributing financially,” she said, “and plan an October 28 gathering at the Emerson Ballroom that will raise awareness about the garden and its consecration.”
Next year’s consecration of the garden by the Dalai Lama, Morgan, said, “will be for all traditions as a symbol of peace. Although the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist, he represents a lot of people’s spiritual aspirations… I think it will be a huge boost for Montana.”
“When His Holiness comes,” Milan said, it will be to greet all of the people of Montana …from all areas.”
The Dalai Lama’s Offer
The Dalai Lama's expected presence at the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas came about not as an invitation, but at his Holiness's own request.
“Last summer, Lodi Gyari Rinpoche, who is very close to the Dalai Lama [his special envoy to Washington, D.C.], was traveling through the area and stopped to see what we were doing here,” said Milan. “He seemed to be very impressed…here in our old barn in Montana he saw 500 Buddha statues resting, waiting for these walls to be built, and he was so impressed that Americans would put forth such great effort…he told the Dalai Lama about it. And when my teacher [Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche] was in Washington, D.C., last fall, the Dalai Lama actually came up to him and asked him when he could come consecrate the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas.”
Milan said the Dalai Lama's offer to consecrate the garden has “really put the feet to their fire” in an effort to complete the project so they can mark the calendar for the Dalai Lama's visit.
“We don't have that date yet,” said Milan. “We want to make sure the garden is done…our hope is that it will be finished within the next year. We're kind of in a position of 'Build it, and He will come.' He's also waiting to know when he can come here. His Holiness is getting older—no one knows how much longer he'll be traveling. We take this very seriously, and want to make sure that [the Dalai Lama's visit] happens…in the very near future.”
When the Dalai Lama comes to consecrate the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas, Milan said there will also be “a Gathering of the Nations” at the site, which is on land sacred to the indigenous peoples who have lived in the region for many generations.
“The tribes are coordinating this,” said Milan. “It's going to be a gathering of the indigenous voices of the Americas, speaking on land, culture, and compassion. That's going to include tribal people from South and Central America, Mexico, the United States, Canada, and Hawaii…all gathering here together at the same time the Dalai Lama comes. And to be able to listen to the indigenous voices to also help us through this difficult time…it's going to be quite an opportunity for Montana to be on the radar of the world, [as they] look to us to turn the tide.”