By Brad Reynolds
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to appreciate the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, though I’m sure it’s a blessing to Montana’s small (and often overlooked) Buddhist demographic. Located near Arlee, about 26 miles northwest of Missoula,
the garden serves many purposes. It acts as a pilgrimage destination for the Western hemisphere, serves as a spiritual center for the area’s Buddhist population (including college students from overseas, attending school at the University of Montana), and is inviting to non-Buddhists seeking a quiet place for inspiration and reflection.
This impressive garden adheres to a sacred architectural arrangement based on the eight-spoked Dharma wheel, a literal representation of the wheel of transformation which Buddha set in motion with his teachings. The garden’s “spokes” (which signify the noble eight-fold path) are lined with one thousand Montana-made Buddha statues, while the outer
wall of the garden’s “wheel” is lined with one thousand stupas, representations of the enlightened mind. At the center of the garden rests a 24-foot tall statue of a gentle feminine figure sitting atop a pedestal. This is Yum Chenmo, The Great Mother of Transcendent Wisdom.
These spiritually-significant elements, combined with beautiful trees, flowers, and scenery aid the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in its mission to provide visitors of all faiths with an opportunity to generate profound merit, to reduce global negativities, and to bring about lasting peace.
Upon my visit to the garden, I got a sense of this peacefulness. A feeling of tranquility washed over me as
I entered and it remained with me for several hours after I left.
While the garden was not intended to impress anyone, I was nonetheless impressed. I walked to the center of the garden, past hundreds of Buddha statues, and followed a path that encircled the statue of Yum Chenmo. Along the path I came upon numerous plaques, each one reciting The Heart Sūtra (a popular Buddhist scripture) in a different language.
At the center, I stopped and looked up at Yum Chenmo. At the time, I was unsure of whom this figure was or what she stood for, but when I later found out that she was The Great Mother of Transcendent Wisdom, I was unsurprised, as her compassionate gaze struck me as being very motherly.
Along the outer wall I admired the one thousand stupas and considered all of the hours it must have taken to create such
a serene place. I stopped at a pond for a while and enjoyed watching the koi as they swam about. Near the pond there was a rock with Buddhist teachings on it; these rocks were placed throughout the garden but as I stood there in bliss,
this particular rock’s message resonated with me. “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle,
and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas is located at 34574 White Coyote Road, north of Arlee. For more information visit ewambuddhagarden.org.