Anyone in the U.S. who finds themselves considering the multi-faceted themes of Buddhism might typically expect to find some of the best examples of temples and shrines, and gardens located in far-off, exotic-sounding Asian regions. But how about on a Native American Reservation in Montana?
Admittedly this may not be the first place you might expect to find a Buddhist shrine and garden, but the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas will impress if not surprise even non-Buddhist visitors. This is especially true for those who know and appreciate a truly tranquil vibe and setting when they encounter one.
The garden in Jocko Valley, just to the north of Arlee, came about through the vision and efforts of Tibetan Master Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, who set about establishing some form of the international center for peace in the area after acquiring the land back in 2000.
This took a step forward after securing the necessary approval of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe.
The theme of 1,000 Buddhas was agreed upon, and the required number of figures was cast according to the efforts of community volunteers.
Guide to the Garden Of One Thousand Buddhas
One thousand had finally been completed by 2016, and various other stones and monuments were brought into the area and arranged along themes and lore related to Buddhist Dharma. All of these factors and more make the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas an intriguing and refreshing place to visit.
The Formations and Structures in the Garden
The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas was established with the intention of representing the 1000 Buddhas who believed in the Mahayana tradition that will actually be born into our religious age.
An imposing-looking 750-foot circular monument representing a wheel elevated on a pillar is one of the things most visitors first notice when setting foot on the 10 acres of rich and natural Montana land on which the garden is set. The statuary formations are arranged to signify the Buddhist “Wheel of Dharma.”
The monument is also a nod to the “Noble Eightfold Path” of Theravada Buddhism which is the prescribed remedy for the wheel and its accompanying eternal cycle of life, suffering, karma, death, and rebirth.
The inner wheel is surrounded by two semi-circular walls which are in turn adorned with 1000 identical white temple stupas. Eight symmetrical spokes rise from a central shrine wherein is located a rather colorful and serene-looking statue of Mahayana’s Great Chinese Mother Goddess Yum Chenmo.
One of the original ideas was to have lines of meditating statues totaling more than 100 in perfect symmetry. This is not the only alignment that one might find within the garden tough, as it is deemed to contain the positive properties of the physical world amidst sacred architectural arrangements and symbols.
One of the ideas behind the purpose of the Garden is to provide an environment that may be prone to encouraging positive transformation within those who enter.
Other Functions of the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas
The Garden of1000 Buddhas also serve as a center for anyone interested in undertaking Tibetan Buddhist studies. The center offers various teaching and meditation classes, along with traditional gatherings and those related to self-empowerment.
The programs include what has become an annual Sangwa Yeshe Drub Chöd which lasts for a week and a LIVE webcast on International Bodhicitta and Tibetan Cultural Festival Days usually held in June.
There is also an annual Festival of Peace event in September which is hosted with the intention of opening up dialogue and discussions on peace.
Getting to the Garden
To get to the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas from the direction of Missoula, first take the US I-90 N, turning north again onto Highway 93 for almost 20 miles. T
his route takes you 2 miles past Arlee, where you should then turn right in an easterly direction and onto White Coyote Road for about a half-mile while looking out for signs and parking directions.
You can also find the garden heading south of Kalispell on the US-93 S for about 88 miles. This route also brings you to White Coyote Road on your left.
Entrance Fees and Location
The Garden of a Thousand Buddhas is completely free to enter. The creators of the garden wanted everyone and anyone to be able to experience the tranquility of the Garden without cost, although like any non-profit organization donations are always welcome.
The exact location of the garden is Arlee, Montana (34574 White Coyote Rd, Arlee, MT 59821). The hours of operation are typically between 9 am and 5 pm, although the garden sometimes stays open as late as 9 pm during the warmer months.
The Bottom Line
In all this is a very impressive and peaceful, Buddhist-themed garden and retreat set uniquely against the mountain backdrop.
The garden and its theme are well-designed and very well-maintained. Any visitor whether inclined to Buddhism or not will benefit from just a short time spent in this place, which is largely peaceful and welcoming.