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PHOTO ESSAY: Montana’s Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

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A dream realized

Words and photos by Tyson Krinke

As a young Tibetan boy in the 1950s, Buddhist teacher Tulku Sang-ngag had a prophetic vision. In a dream, he saw a garden of peace in the middle of a lotus-shaped mountain valley. Thirty years later, while traveling through western Montana, Sang-ngag happened upon the Jocko Valley and recognized it as the one from his dream.

Deciding this area would be the location of his peaceful garden, Sang-ngag worked with locals to purchase 60 acres in the heart of the valley in 1999. With the help of donors and volunteers from around Montana and the world, Sang-ngag’s childhood dream has become a reality.

The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas lies three miles north of Arlee, Montana. Melding Eastern spirituality with Western landscapes, the Garden is a refuge for those seeking solace and serves as a center for Buddhist studies as part of the Ewam Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. As in the Tibetan Himalaya, Buddhism has found a natural home in the beauty and ruggedness of the Mission Mountains.

The Garden, built in the shape of the eight-spoked Dharma Wheel, represents the Buddha’s teachings and the pathway to enlightenment. One thousand concrete Buddhas, all hand-cast on site, line the spokes of the wheel and 1,000 stupas, or Buddhist commemorative monuments, cap the outer rim. At the center of the Garden stands a 24-foot-tall statue of the Great Mother of all Buddhas, Yum Chenmo. Around her and throughout the Garden, native Montana flora adds color, fragrance and life to the display.

Walking along the Garden’s paths in meditation or gazing at the gentle expressions on the Buddhas’ faces, one’s mind gravitates to a state of calm. In this way, all who visit the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas are invited to spend a peaceful moment in Tulku Sang-ngag’s childhood dream.

This story was first published in the winter 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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