Buddhist centers in southern New Mexico offer Tibetan culture and traditions

By S. DERRICKSON MOORE | Associated Press/ Las Cruces Sun-News, April 23, 2007

TULAROSA, New Mexico (USA) -- It's the kind of rustic, hand-lettered sign you often see in the rural West, giving notice of a cattle crossing or the name of an isolated ranch. This sign offers directions "TO THE BUDDHAFIELD OF INFINITE APPEARANCE."

It's just one indication of a growing presence of Tibetan interests in the rural New Mexican town of Tularosa, which is on track to become one of the world's leading centers of Tibetan culture and healing traditions.

Buddhists already come to Tularosa from Las Cruces, Ruidoso, Alamogordo, El Paso, Texas, and the surrounding region to attend weekly practice, which includes meditation, lectures and social gatherings, at Orgyen Choling Tibetan Buddhist Center.

The center was established in 2004 and plans are under way for a monastery and a Tibetan village showcasing the architecture and culture of an ancient civilization.

"This will be the North American seat of his Eminence Bhakha Tulku Rinpoche," said Jean McDonnell, who is administering three programs under the guidance of Rinpoche - a lama, monk, teacher and spiritual leader - who fled the Nyingma center of learning in Tibet in 1959 during the Chinese occupation.

Rinpoche now leads centers in St. Leo, Fla.; Garden Grove, Calif.; and Sneedville, Tenn. "Tularosa will be his headquarters," McDonnell said.

Regional school children plan to tour the brand new Yeshi Choden Tibetan Cultural Center, which will house artifacts from Tibet and an ambitious program to preserve and practice ancient healing traditions and grow traditional Tibetan medicinal herbs.

The new center is named for Rinpoche's daughter, Yeshi Choden Lama, who died in a helicopter crash last year with 24 other prominent leaders of the World Wildlife Fund.

"Yeshi was a scholar and program officer with WWF Nepal. She held master's degrees in sociology and anthropology and co-authored publications in both English and Tibetan on medicinal plants, conservation of plant resources, ethnobotany and snow leopards," said McDonnell, leading a tour of the new cultural center.

Bright flags and Tibetan arches in primary colors make the center easy to spot. Out back is a field where a healing garden is being planted. Inside, workmen were putting final touches on rooms that include displays of books and colorful textiles.

"Lamas bring rare medicinal Tibetan herbs to Tularosa - some already growing, other saved from China and India - and are working with a naturopathic doctor here to save and preserve ancient healing traditions," McDonnell said.

Greg Nagkpa Pema Norbu Powers, a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist who holds degrees in agriculture and Buddhist philosophy, will oversee agricultural operations.

McDonnell said New Mexicans have shown a lot of interest in the organization.

"We've had some lectures with standing room only," she said.

The group also has a retreat center in Grants, known as the Zuni Mountain Stupa. Why has an internationally known spiritual leader chose New Mexico, and Tularosa in particular, for projects aimed at preserving an ancient culture?

"He told me this area is a lot like where he comes from in Tibet. He loves the big sky and the mountains," said McDonnell, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich. She has been a practicing Buddhist since 1982, and was a longtime resident of Las Cruces, where she exhibited her art and founded arts and crafts cooperatives before moving to Tularosa two years ago.

"I think I came to New Mexico because I wanted to live in the most unusual place I could find in the U.S.," she said.

The public is invited to weekly practice on Sunday mornings at the Orgyen Choling Buddhist Center, and visitors and groups are welcome to tour the new Yeshi Choden Tibetan Cultural Center.


On the Net: Orgyen Choling Tibetan Buddhist Center http://www.orgyencholing.org