1,000 buddhas: Barn manager carefully crafts statues for Arlee garden

2010-03-01T08:00:00Z 1,000 buddhas: Barn manager carefully crafts statues for Arlee gardenBy JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian missoulian.com
March 01, 2010 8:00 am  • 

ARLEE – Right effort. Right mindfulness. Right concentration. In the Buddhist tradition, these are the three principles of Samadhi, or concentration, and part of the Noble Eightfold Path toward awakening.

In a low-slung, drafty barn outside Arlee, Luke Hanley gets plenty of time to meditate on these principles. Day after day, the 27-year-old from Utah quietly paces himself through the steps that define his purpose here.

Mix cement, sand and water. Pour into a polyurethane mold; work out the air bubbles. Let sit four days. Remove from mold. Patch air pockets; buff out rough spots. Cover in plastic wrap; let sit another 21 days. Seal.

Repeat. And repeat.

It is a labor of love for Hanley, who lives here on this 60-acre property known as the Ewam Magadha Garden of One Thousand Buddhas along with jovial caretaker Charlie Pearl. As coordinator of the Buddha Barn, it’s Hanley’s responsibility to keep apace with the mission established by the Garden’s founder, the Tibetan Buddhist lama Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche.

That mission: the construction of 1,000 cast-concrete Buddha statues, plus another 1,000 stupas (small reliquaries), plus another 1,000 gyabyuls (nimbuses or halos).

It’s a mission that took root almost from the moment when Rinpoche purchased this Arlee property back in 2000. Hanley says that he and a group of volunteers aim to finish the project by autumn of 2011.

So far, 450 Buddhas down, 550 to go.

Plus most of the gyabyuls, and all of the stupas.

“Most of it’s still ahead,” said Hanley, whose warm and even voice betrays not a hint of worry about the work that lies ahead. “With our feet to the fire, there’s a lot of positive, dynamic energy that’s developed around here these days. Right now there’s really a flurry of activity.”

Just the other day, a couple of construction contractors from Kalispell stopped by, said Pearl. They weren’t looking for work. They were simply curious about the place.

“People just keep showing up,” said Pearl. “We need a welcoming committee and a brass band pretty soon. We’re definitely noticing the energy in the last few months just flowing in and through here.”

It’s a good thing, as there’s plenty of work ahead. A little over a month ago, Hanley and Pearl came to live here in the small farm house by the Buddha Barn. Around that same time, supporters of the Garden opened a second Buddha Barn, at 1800 Trail St. in Missoula.

Between the two locations, Hanley said the goal is now to produce 10 of the two-foot-tall Buddhas every week.

Eventually, those statues will be laid out in 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. That towering and ornate statue, and the canopy that protects it, are already in place, in a field near the Buddha Barn.

But for now, most of the small Buddha statues sit in neat rows in the back of the barn, behind a mound of hay bales, bathed only by the light of two dusty windows.

It’s when he comes back here that Hanley is reminded of the whole point of his labors.

“I love coming in here,” said Hanley, gazing across the rows of statues. “For me, it epitomizes my passion here – Buddhas and an old Montana barn. … In an important way, this is being designed to be beneficial to anybody. These symbols, I think, have a calming effect on anybody’s mind, whether they’re Buddhist or not.”

And, to be sure, he enjoys the work.

“It’s fun,” he grins. “It hasn’t yet felt repetitive to me. Working on the statues naturally calms your mind, looking at this pristine symbol.”

Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358, jnickell@missoulian.com or on NickellBag.com.

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