ARLEE - Each year Tulku Sang Ngag Rinpoche and the Ewam Montana sangha bring the surrounding community together to celebrate peace at the site of the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas.
This year, the sixth annual Peace Festival will take place this Saturday.
According to the Ewam Buddha Garden website, the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas is meant to be "a place of spiritual pilgrimage where all people regardless of belief can connect with and inspire their natural inner qualities of peacefulness, wisdom and compassion."
The annual peace festival is an effort to look at how spiritual practices and principals can be solutions to social and cultural problems, Luke Hanley, Buddha barn manager, said.
"By doing positive action, like the action of creating 1,000 Buddhas, you are counteracting the abundant negative energy that is in the world right now," Hanley said. "We're building a place that's the spiritual symbol of these principals, and the idea behind the festival is to showcase the people who embody those principals. We call it ‘compassion in action,' or work that is good."
Julie Cajune, director of the CS&KT HeartLines Tribal History Project will speak at the event, chronicling 100 years of allotment and how it's affected tribal people. A panel discussion with Cajune, Jocko Valley Lutheran Church Pastor Mark Gravrock and Karma Tenzin, the Executive Director of the Tibetan Children's Education Foundation will also take place, moderated by Dr. Georgia Milan, from the Women's Care Center at St. Patrick's Hospital in Missoula.
Dedicated to peace, when completed, the garden will display 1,000 Buddha statues, 1,000 trees, 1,000 stupas, medicinal plants, a reflective pond, walkways and benches. Hanley said there are already more than 600 statues created, almost filling the floor of the Ewam barn. Eventually, those statues will be mortared to walls arranged in the pattern of an eight-spoked wheel, or dharmachakra, symbolizing the eight-fold path of Buddhism's spiritual progression. The first two of eight concrete "throne" walls were erected this summer. They radiate from a central 24-foot statue of the Mother of all Buddhas, Prajnaparamita (Tib. Yum Chenmo) and four Buddhas sit on thrones at 90-degree intervals around the circle's outer edge. This year, just in time for the Festival, a long awaited 40-foot steel and copper canopy was built over Yum Chenmo. Volunteers were hard at work last week sanding and painting, putting the final touches on the monument for the festival.
"More people are involved and more Montanans care abut it and are making it their own," Hanley said about the garden's growing support. "It's really broadened into a community-supported project, which was always the goal."
Since the Dhali Llama accepted an invitation to bless the garden when completed, Hanley said there has been a lot more energy coming in that is devoted to completing the project. Right now, Hanley and the Ewam Montana sangha are in major fundraising and major construction mode. The Peace Festival, which is free and open to the public, will not only help to share the message of the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas, but also help to raise money to fund further construction of it.
Saturday will include music by the Drum Brothers and Joan Zen, vendors of local crafts and food, raffles for Tibetan paintings and a custom-built chopper, as well as opportunities for children to make prayer flags. Tribal flutists and a drum group will share the music of the Salish and Kootenai Tribes and students from the Nkwusm Salish Language School will lead a round dance.
Hanley recounted the story of when the project's founder, Rinpoche, fist came to the Jocko Valley. He said he saw the surrounding mountains as those of his dreams and felt the immense power of the place around him. When he invited tribal members to consecrate the land for the Buddha garden, he became even more aware of the similarities between the two foreign cultures' sounds, colors, and prayers themselves. Half a world away, and the likeness was astounding.
"They are tapping the same roots that are powerful and spiritual in nature," Hanley said.