ARLEE — More than 100 visitors worked their way through a garden already filled with 1,000 permanent residents Sunday, all frozen in meditation, as the Ewam Magadha Garden of 1,000 Buddhas hosted its 15th annual Festival for Peace.
Both practicing Buddhists and those who just wanted to enjoy the scenery offered by the garden listened to talks from civic and religious leaders, heard music from around the world and worked their way around the path that encircles the statues.
Standing in the center of the ring of local vendors who also attended the event, Arkansas stone balancing artist and “bubble enthusiast” North Watt dipped two sticks connected by a rope into soapy water. By waving the looped rope in the air, he conjured a massive bubble into the air that brought applause from the small group of kids gathered around him.
“The art I make here is a bit like what you see in the garden. There’s no right or wrong in it,” he said.
Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, a native of Tibet, purchased the 60 acres of land that would become the Ewam Magadha Garden of 1,000 Buddhas in 2000 after the scenery of western Montana reminded him of his home nearly 7,000 miles away. Through partnering with local non-profits and fellow Buddhists, he set out to establish a retreat tucked away in the mountains near Arlee.
Starting in 2005, the garden hosted its first peace festival. At the time, only a few dozen Buddhas surrounded the 23-foot concrete Great Mother, Prajinapamita. Through volunteer work and donations, the 1,000th statue took its place in the garden in 2015 for the 10th festival.
“Our priority is to find the balance of understanding western tastes, while still staying true to the traditional roots of Tibetan Buddhism,” said James Grubbs, who has been the maintenance manager for the property for the past three years.
Future additions to the garden include remodeling its farmhouses to accommodate monks and nuns, along with adding more waterfalls and stupa shrines. For its latest peace festival, the garden caretakers just completed the “Peace Pavilion” for the guest speakers and performers.
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One of those guests, Rev. Paul Armstrong, consecrated the pavilion by blessing it with holy water on four sides.
Those who came to the garden were encouraged to start their visit by walking around the garden four times, a mile total, and reflect on each of the Four Immeasurables of Buddism: love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
“I’m one to believe in a world of peace, and place and events like this are a gentle reminder of what we’re capable of doing,” said visitor Susan Lewis while she worked on her first loop.
Lewis, who currently calls Arizona home, came to garden as part of her first visit to Montana at the recommendation of a friend. She has spent the past few weeks traveling throughout the United States and Canada.
The festival began with a procession led to the rhythm of drums, cymbals and bells. Those in jeans and T-shirts mixed in with red and black robes of visiting monks and nuns as they made their own loop around the garden. They carried the flags of the United States, Tibet, Montana and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
“The ambulation is meant to encompass everyone,” said Khenpo Namchak Dorji, who has attended the last three peace festivals. Dorji, who works with the garden’s founder, also spoke on behalf of Ewam International during the festival.
Other speakers included Steven Small Salmon of the Pend d’Oreille tribe and Betsy Mulligan-Dague from the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center.