As soon as there are 1,000 Buddhas in Arlee, they'll be visited by one Dalai Lama.

On Tuesday, members of the Buddhist community of Ewam Montana in Arlee announced that the Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhists, will come to western Montana to consecrate the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas when it is completed.

The visit is expected to take place in late 2011, but specific dates have not been set.

"This is going to be such a blessing for Missoula and the surrounding area to have him come here," said Dr. Georgia Milan, coordinator of the Dalai Lama's visit. "We anticipate visitors both nationally and internationally to join us for this event, and help consecrate what will really become a very large pilgrimage site for people to gather in the name of peace and have a spiritual retreat in the heart of the pure lands of Montana."

The visit will be the first ever by the Dalai Lama to Montana. He will appear at the invitation of Tulku Sang-ngang Rinpoche, founder of the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas and himself a respected spiritual leader among followers of Tibetan Buddhism.

The seeds of the visit were planted in 2000, when an anonymous student of Rinpoche's purchased 60 acres of land north of Arlee and donated it to Ewam Montana.

Shortly thereafter, Rinpoche decided to build a garden on the site, featuring 1,000 cast-concrete statues of the Buddha Shakyamuni arrayed around 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. When the project was first announced, Rinpoche said he hoped that the Dalai Lama would come to the site upon its completion.

Exactly when the garden will be completed remains somewhat up in the air. Volunteers have, to date, constructed more than half of the Buddha statues. However, other elements of the garden, including 1,000 concrete stupas (small reliquaries) and 1,000 gabyuls (nimbuses or halos), as well as pathways, electrical wiring and landscaping, remain to be done.

To complete that work, members of Ewam Montana must raise approximately $1 million.

"It's certainly a big goal," noted Milan, "but we have many things that have already been done through the literally thousands of hours of volunteer work that have already gone into this. This isn't just a good idea. We've been working hard on this and are very excited about the progress."

The Dalai Lama's visit will take place upon completion of the garden.

One of the world's most recognized religious leaders, the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhists, who believe that he is the reincarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

The current Dalai Lama was born Tenzin Gyatso in 1935, and was recognized as the next Dalai Lama at an early age. The 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama, he is the first to travel extensively outside Tibet, while serving as both the head of state and the spiritual leader of the Tibetan government in exile. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and is the author of dozens of books.

Rinpoche will speak about the impending visit by the Dalai Lama at a news conference this Friday at the Inner Harmony Yoga Studio in Missoula. Read about it in Saturday's Missoulian.

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


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