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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Shangri-La in the San Juans

May 15, 2009

Tara Mandala sets deep roots in the region
by Jules Masterjohn
Durango Telegraph
May 13, 2009

Early in April, on a snowy spring day, I ventured
into the mountains near Pagosa Springs, past a
locked gate, and down a muddy road. I knew that I
was going to an open house at the Tara Mandala
Retreat Center, but I had no idea that I would
discover a modern day Shangri-La so close to home.

Nestled on 700 acres of the HD Mountains, Tara
Mandala was founded by the first western woman to
be ordained as a Tibetan nun, Lama Tsultrim
Allione. Under Lama Tsultrim’s guidance, the Tara
Mandala community has recently completed the
construction of a grand Buddhist temple. Its
architectural design came to Lama Tsultrim in a
visionary dream over 40 years ago. The idea to
build "a three-dimensional mandala in the form of
a temple in the West," however, was born 15 years
earlier during her extended stay in Asia.

This may seem like a long time to hold a vision,
yet for a Tibetan practitioner and a teacher as
celebrated as Lama Tsultrim, sustaining
visualizations is a well developed spiritual
practice. Visualization is used in Tibetan
Buddhist meditation to help the practitioner
cultivate qualities embodied by a specific deity
such as Tara, the female Buddha of compassion,
for example. The use of statues, paintings and
other sacred art forms are the basis for these
visualizations, placing art at the foundation of Tibetan Buddhism.

Upon entering the temple at Tara Mandala, the
first impression is one of awe. I nearly lost my
breath in the presence of so much intricate
pattern and vibrant color. It was hard to
comprehend the amount of dedication and time put
into crafting the carved and painted lintels over
the 80 doorways and windows, all covered with
involved patterns, sacred symbols, deities and
bright colors. The temple is unlike any structure
in our region and is an exquisite example of the
ornate style found in Tibetan art and
architecture, long-influenced by Chinese art and culture.

At the center of the temple’s artistry is master
painter Lama Jyurme Roujie, whose in-depth
knowledge of Tibetan Buddhist culture informs the
artwork. He has designed and painted every lintel
and column carvings and is in the process of
painting the carved wood throne. He will soon
begin the interior mandalas and frescoes that will cover the temple walls.

Assisting Lama Jyurme are three skilled
woodcarvers from Bhutan. Each follows the
master’s drawings effortlessly, working with hand
tools 4 to shape the many wooden elements that
comprise the temple’s sacred imagery. As Lama
Jyurme and the carvers work, it is a study in
focused attention and deep concentration -- no
music was playing, no conversations taking place, only mindful activity.

A combination of traditional Tibetan design and
today’s "green" building practices, the temple is
shaped in a 60-foot octagon. A carved and gilded
shrine room occupies its center, surrounded by a
circumambulation corridor. The numerous ornately
carved and painted columns as well as the throne
will soon be placed within the heart of the temple.

Twenty-one bronze cast-and-gilded statues of
Tara, adorned with semi-precious stones, will
also be installed throughout the
12,000-square-foot structure. Four of the statues
are currently at the retreat center, and the
remaining statues are in Nepal being crafted by a
family that has been making Buddhist statues for
more than two centuries. The 3-foot tall, seated
statues are graceful, elegant manifestations of
Tara, who is known as the "mother of all
Buddhas," and is the namesake of the retreat center.

The Tara Mandala temple is an embodiment of
traditional Tibetan Buddhist symbolism. Built in
three stories, the number has important
significance. Each of the four doorways faces a
cardinal direction, representing a specific
aspect of the enlightened mind. Found extensively
throughout the building are five basic colors --
white, yellow, blue, red and green -- and are
used for their inherent transformative quality.

Walking through the magnificent structure is like
taking a sacred journey on which the spirit lifts
as the mind calms. This was no coincidence, for
the temple is designed to shift one’s
consciousness from the mind-based preoccupations
of human activity to the divine nature of being
human. On my visit to Tara Mandala, I touched a
deep sense of joy and wonder, and left with a
soothing peacefulness that lingers into this moment.

The scale and artistry of the temple possess the
ability to profoundly affect human beings. It
also has "transformed the landscape into a
spiritual generator" of sorts, offering a space
for traditional Tibetan practice as well as,
perhaps, visits by such esteemed teachers as His
Holiness the Dalai Lama. Situated in the pristine
wilderness, the jewel-like temple is truly a
place worthy of pilgrimage, one of the few power
places in America manifested from one woman’s visionary dream."

Tara Mandala Retreat Center hosts retreats,
programs, and open houses throughout the year.
Visit or call (970) 731-3711 for information.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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