When he was a child in Tibet, a lama dreamed of a valley in the shape of a lotus flower. Imprisoned for a decade after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, he made his way to the United States. There, in western Montana, he visited the Jocko Valley, tucked away on the Flathead Indian Reservation, and recognized the landscape from his dream.
Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche purchased ten acres of this lotus-shaped land in 2000 and set about building a garden that would serve as a pilgrimage site in the west, dedicated to the 1000 buddhas who are to return “in our eon.”
The garden takes the shape of an eight spoked dharma wheel with Yum Chenmo at the center. The “Great Mother” is “the manifestation of the perfection of wisdom” and is surrounded by 1000 hand-cast buddhas. The garden is encircled by 1000 hand-cast stupas featuring Tara, a female deity. The shape of garden “evokes the turning or awakening of the enlightened qualities of altruism and wisdom.”
We’d heard about it for years, and had even thought about casting a buddha ourselves in Missoula. For a while, there were rumors that the Dalai Lama himself would visit to dedicate the garden on its completion. It has long since been finished, and we’d never been there – even though it is only an hour from our home base in Missoula
On the day we visited, a Saturday morning in October, the garden was mostly deserted. We’d had weeks of rain that finally cleared into blue skies with high sweeping clouds. It was chilly but bright and we were fortunate to have our first tour of the gardens with our friend Justin, a Buddhist scholar who walked us clockwise through the dharma wheel.
The buddhas were endlessly fascinating to me, each one just alike radiating serenity into the world. We were joined that morning by some our closet friends, people with whom we tend to laugh long and loud. We punctured the silence of the garden with bursts of joy in each other’s company, and I’m sure the universe delighted in that.
This is the perfect place not only for reflection but also for photography. The details of both the buddhas and the stupas were beautiful up close, and I would have been content to spend the entire day photographing the garden from all angles. I especially loved the tiny details in each sculpture. It is easy to take the garden as a whole and miss the sum of its parts, especially with the peaceful, pleasing pattern of 1000 statues in long rows.
This is an International Peace Garden and aims to “provide people of all faiths with an opportunity to generate profound merit, to reduce global negativities, and to bring about lasting peace. Through the use of the ancient symbols of Buddhism, the Garden awakens one’s natural inner qualities of joy, wisdom, and compassion.”