Wheels in motion: Ceremony readies Buddhist prayer tools

By Ryan Sabalow, Record Searchlight, August 30, 2006

Junction City, Oregon (USA) -- Standing 12 feet tall and festooned with brilliant colors and paintings of Buddha, the prayer wheels of Rigdzin Ling were an impressive sight Tuesday in Junction City.

The 15 prayer wheels grow more impressive upon learning whatís inside.

The 3-ton, barrel-shaped cylinders are filled with rolls of ultra-thin paper that, if unwound, would stretch from Junction City to Denver.

Close to 17 billion tiny Tibetan Buddhist prayers, called mantras, are inscribed on the paper.

An additional 175 billion prayers on microfilm are in canisters inside the wheels, said Kim McLaughlin, 44, the administrator of the Rigdzin Ling Tibetan Buddhist meditation center in Junction City, about eight miles west of Weaverville in Trinity County.

The point of all these stockpiled prayers? To subtly change the world for the better by spreading a message of goodness and hope to a world embattled by spite, pain and violence.

"I think of it as our power-generation station," said 58-year-old Rigdzin Ling resident Lama Orgen Zangpo, whose Western name is Robert Racine.

That generator officially starts Thursday afternoon, when the electric prayer wheels ó some of the largest in the world ó are turned on for the first time.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that as the prayer wheels spin, the mantras will float through the world and grace every living being with their messages of happiness, while helping to relieve suffering, McLaughlin said.

In order to properly start the wheels, the 30 or so people living at Rigdzin Ling and dozens of others who share their faith began consecrating the wheels Monday, part of a five-day ceremony.

The silent serenity of the tree-covered jagged hills of the meditation center shook Tuesday with the peaceful rumble of their chanting, the clash of cymbals and Tibetan horns.

Around 50 people wearing robes over Western T-shirts and shorts sat cross-legged reading their chants in both English and Tibetan from small slips of paper.

Three Tibetan lamas wearing traditional red and orange robes presided over the group. One lama, Katok Getse Rinpoche, sat on a dais above the chanting people.

Lama in Tibetan means guru or spiritual teacher. Rinpoche is a title meaning "Precious One," a step up in spiritual rank, so to speak, from lama.

The top lama is the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet and supreme head of Tibetan Buddhism, who has grown to near rock-star-like fame in the U.S. in recent years.

Katok Getse Rinpoche, a meditation master from India, came to the U.S. to lead the consecration ceremony at the behest of the Rigdzin Lingís now-deceased founder, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, according to the groupís Web site.

For more information, call 623-2714 or go to www.snowcrest.net/chagdud.

Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, who died in 2002, came to America in 1979 after living for 20 years in India and Nepal in the aftermath of the Chinese conquest of Tibet in 1959. He relocated to Junction City in the mid-1980s on the 268-acre barren stretch of land, where Rigdzin Ling now sits.

Thanks to labor from the mostly Western Buddhist volunteers living there, Rigdzin Ling has grown into a small community complete with communal living quarters, an industrial-sized kitchen and a shrine in a garden-like setting.

Itís also the nerve center of the nonprofit Chagdud Gonpa Foundation, the organization that oversees Rigdzin Ling and more than 20 similar meditation centers and practice groups throughout North America.

Thereís a Tibetan Buddhist store at Rigdzin Ling, complete with its own catalog and Web site, and a publishing center that translates Tibetan texts into English.

The residents share chores as varied as washing dishes and taking orders from customers at the store. But their main mission is to grow spiritually and learn from the centerís residents and lamas such as Orgen Zangpo, said Candy Palmo, 62, who has lived at Rigdzin Ling for nearly 10 years.

She said a key tenet of Buddhism is to find the goodness inside yourself and pass that on to others.

She compared her spiritual struggle of finding her inner goodness to discovering a hidden crystal buried inside a rock.

Others such as Fred Aaron, a 46-year-old painter from Sonoma, came to the Rigdzin Ling for sanctuary from personal torment.

Aaronís 24-year-old daughter, Sarah, killed herself last year. He said he stumbled upon the meditation center while exploring near his campsite.

Heís lived at the site since then doing chores, including putting his painting and carpentry skills to work by helping build the structure under which the prayer wheels sit. Before his arrival, his grief overwhelmed him.

"I was a dead flower that they let come back to blossom," Aaron said.

During a break for lunch from chanting, Katok Getse Rinpoche, with the help of an interpreter, described Buddhism.

"Practicing love and compassion are the keys to bringing happiness to ourselves and others," he said.