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Pamtingpa Center Builds a High Desert Stupa
THE HOLY OBJECTS OF FPMT
By Su Ianniello, Pamtingpa Center spiritual program coordinator
Pamtingpa Center is a small FPMT center in Tonasket a small town in north central Washington state in the Unites States. The high desert is hot in summer, cold in winter, with vast, open landscapes. Pamtingpa Center has land on which our first plan was to build a gompa. A few years ago, Lama Zopa Rinpoche came to the land. As we were all leaving, Rinpoche turned and looked out over the mountains and said, “A stupa here.” That’s how our stupa building project began.
Then Yangsi Rinpoche came to visit us. We asked Rinpoche to locate the spot for the stupa. When we were on the land, Rinpoche slowly, calmly took a walk, and lingered in one area for a while. This was the spot. Then he led us in a beautiful ceremony at the new stupa site.
We were still trying to figure out how complete the project two years later. When Lama Zopa Rinpoche came back to town, he told us to build the gompa first, giving us some funds to begin this new project. However, a few weeks after Rinpoche left, we got a message to go back to the stupa project, using the funds for the gompa. These were some good lessons in flexibility.
At this point, we were determined to make it happen. Ven. Yarphel [John Jackson] was back from retreat in India and New Zealand and willing to show us how to build a stupa. He quickly became project manager with Gary Davis, Bruce Corrigan and Reed Engel assisting. Both Gary and Bruce are involved in Native American practices. Bruce said the reason he wanted to take part was because he saw the stupa as something that would help heal the planet.
Getting to Work
Drawing plans and making many lists were some of the first things we did. One of the concerns was funding. With Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s generosity, we were well on the way, but how many yard sales and Christmas bazaars would it take to build a stupa? Someone said, “Don’t worry, just make up your minds to do it and the funds will come.” And they did! Amaaazing. One person’s mother passed away and left an inheritance. The timing was fortunate for the project. Others put in what they could. We also had a matching fund drive which encouraged people to donate in the moment we needed it most. Things were falling into place.
When the day to break ground arrived in early spring 2013, Ven. Yarphel and Gary followed directions to determine the exact place to begin digging, referring to the three stupa books produced by FPMT Education Services which were enormously beneficial throughout the whole process. Then Ven. René Feusi came down the hill and led the earth blessing ceremony. At the conclusion, we dug the first level of earth.
The ingredients to fill the three chambers of the stupa made up one of our many list. We circulated this list, and people chose the items that they would be responsible for. As we were collecting these items, we realized the need for a place to store them. Keith Kladnik allowed us to fill up his new shop, which delayed his moving into it.
Thanks to Ani Fran at Kopan Monastery and her patience, we were able to get the gorkhim (the big frame on the front of the stupa), lotus and rings, many of the rolled mantras, and incense from Nepal.
There were many other mantras to roll so we had a mantra rolling weekend at a nearby lake. The fog rolled in and clung to the lake, misty and cold. Walter Wipfli came from Bend, Oregon, to help. We hugged the fireplace and rolled into the night.
Almost every weekend, from spring, through summer and into fall of 2013, we had a work party. Sometimes there’d be one or two people, and sometimes a dozen.
A typical work party began with Ven. Yarphel coming over and loading the generator with Gary. Bruce would already be up at the site doing some prep, and Reed would meander in and work hard. Cars would drive the bumpy road with clanging dishes, steaming pots, ice chests and thermoses, delivering an essential ingredient: food. This may seem like a minor aspect of the project, but it wasn’t. A well-fed crew was fundamental in keeping the energy going.
Since there’s no water on the land, we’d pump it up the steep hill from Julia Sanderson’s place into a tank. Then the water would be gravity fed to the site.
Concrete was mixed in a mixer that was powered by Gary’s tractor. We used the tractor’s front-end loader to hoist the concrete to the stupa and pour it into the wooden forms. Sometimes when the tractor wouldn’t reach, we used buckets. Ven. Yarphel was directing from the top. His diligent effort was inspiring.
Harry Sutton came and worked hard. One time, on the last cement pour of the day, he pulled the lever to empty the concrete into the bathtub. All the concrete went into the tub, and then the concrete mixer broke off the tractor and rolled downhill. It was good timing as we finished the concrete work just as winter arrived.
When it was time to fill the upper chamber, we were not sure where to place some of the mantras. Ven. Chosang chimed in just in time. We took pictures of the mantras and she sent them to Ven. Tsering. He told us what mantras they were and where they should go.
A key to the progression of the project was not taking some weekends off. We saw that if there were a few focused people, willing to do whatever it took, then progress happened. It was delightful and hard work.
The Life Tree
When we were wondering where to find the center pole for the stupa, a fragrant life tree, Pamtingpa student Life Has Meaning, happily offered a cedar tree from her land, two hours north of Tonasket. She and Bill were so generous, giving the tree, the truck and finding a place for us to stay. We found the tree in one day, made offerings and prayers. Sleeping under the open sky, we were to watch our dreams that night. The sky was clear and spacious. In the morning we all talked about our experiences of the night and decided to cut the tree. We made more offerings and the tree was cut with a bow saw. We cleaned off the tree’s limbs, which were dried and some being used as incense for filling the chambers of the stupa. In spring 2014, once the tree has dried, it will be cut square down its sides and many mantras will be drawn on it.
Decorations, gorkhim, rings and painting will be added to the stupa in the spring and summer to bring the project to completion.
Besides the regular crew, we were fortunate to have the help of many. Big thanks to everyone who joined in, we are grateful.
For more photos from the stupa building work parties, see Photo Gallery: Pamtingpa Center Builds a High Desert Stupa.
For more on Pamtingpa Center, visit their website.
Su Ianniello is a student of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Yangsi Rinpoche and serves as spiritual program coordinator for Pamtingpa Center. She lives in Tonasket, Washington, and has a valid base to be merely labeled environmentally minded.
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