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Signs of the Times

Post Date: October 23rd, 2010

So many wonderful thing have occurred in the evolution of the Garden of 1000 Buddhas project this year—His Holiness the Dalai Lama officially accepting Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche’s invitation to perform the consecration upon its completion; Nepali artist Sonam Tsering bringing of the central Yum Chenmo statue into brilliantly colored life and golden gloriousness; a lotus-shaped inner walkway and Buddha statue throne walls now radiating from Yum Chenmo’s central energy pulse; nearly 700 Buddha statues complete, at least 100 of which have been sponsored by faithful in Japan due to the irresistible enthusiasm of two energetic supporters; a constant stream of the visiting curious—but we were stunned by the last development, a bolt out of the seeming clear blue. (Do you have a Facebook account and want to see lots more about the Garden’s progress? Click here!)

About three weeks ago, our office manager Amy emerged from her cubby cradling the phone: “Does anyone want to take a call from the New York Times?”

Um, yep.

The voice on the other end was Helena-based freelance journalist and author Jim Robbins. He explained that he’d been tipped to the Garden’s presence on a tour of Glacier National Park by none other than NBA coach and self-described ‘Zen Christian’ Phil Jackson, who lives part-time in NW Montana. Jim had then brought his family down for a Graden visit without identifying himself, liked what he saw, and pitched the tale to the Times. The good folks in New York gave the green light, and Jim gave us a jingle.

His timing was excellent. Tulku Sang-ngag was soon arriving to preside over two retreats in Arlee, and interview time was arranged for this past Sunday. Here, Jim on the left speaks with Rinpoche and his close student Lama Tsomo; Karma Thegsum, Executive Director of the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation and also pictured, kindly drove all the way from Butte to provide excellent translation. Photojournalist Ted Wood journeyed up with Jim to soak it up and shoot; both had snuck out of a Missoula journalists’ conference.

We also invited Julie Cajune, Salish educator, historian and progressive advocate, as well as beloved Ewam friend, to speak to the deeper currents of the story. These involve the background of the presence of non-tribal people such as the Ewamcommunity on the Flathead Reservation. She and Rinpoche also described remarkable similarities in their spiritual forms, as well as their shared experience as members of people groups displaced from their homelands by alien, occupying forces. It was a profound conversation.

Then on Wednesday morning, photographer Michael Albans, a recent transplant to Missoula from his Brooklyn home and gig as a Daily News shooter, arrived to get shots to support the story. The dozen images he sent to the Times were extraordinary and we got him to give us this whimsical shot of Tulku Sang-ngag astride the ’69 Norton chopper we’re raffling off before next year’s riding season!

We completed the fact-checking with Jim yesterday, the story’s been put to bed, and now we’re eagerly waiting to hear when it will be published. As soon as we know you will too!

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