Our story began on a summer’s day in 1980 when Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa in the Karma Kagyu lineage, and Hanne Strong, visionary landowner in the Baca Grande, discovered the auspicious location on which today the Tashi Gomang Stupa stands. The Karmapa was excited about plans for a settlement, monastery and medical college there. Unfortunately, he was unable to see the project through: the next year he passed into paranirvana.
The Crestone project was given to his heart-son and regent Jamgon Kongtrul 3rd, who in 1988 entrusted three young Westerners to build a stupa monument to the 16th Karmapa on the land in Crestone. The three, Marianne Marstrand, Maria Pelaez and Mark Elliott, although immensely excited about the project, were confronted from the start with the many problems in building such a structure, especially as it needed to be done in the strict and proper manner of the thousand-year-old Tibetan Kagyu tradition. And over forty feet high.
Not to mention how to fund the entire project. “It cost about ten times more than we thought it would.” Somehow however, the word kept getting around and donations continued to come in.
The Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, head of KTD, the North American home of the Karmapas, came to Crestone to determine the precise location of the stupa. He thereafter provided many of the blessings, invocations and ceremonies which accompanied all stages of the construction.
In the actual process of building the stupa, a long seven years, the first three were joined by Paul Kloppenburg, Bo Wiberg, Barbara Falconer and Ton Vlach. Eventually hundreds of others participated. And of course, there was Hanne Strong, who had given the land to the Karmapa to begin with and was thereafter a constant source of support.
“We didn’t know anything!” Surprisingly, the scale of the project somehow didn’t seem to intimidate the group. They continued through all seasons to work in periods of intense activity and relative calm. The various contractors involved all did their work with professional skill and dedication.
Meanwhile 100,000 miniature stupas had to be cast, cleaned and painted to place inside the stupa, along with a veritable forest of juniper boughs to cradle them and the relics from many Tibetan masters. An access area had to be landscaped. The statue of the 16th Karmapa had to be specially ordered from Nepal. Ever more money had to be raised. And yet somehow the project was completed on the Dalai Lama’s birthday, July 6, 1996. The stupa has been open every day to the public since then.
Above and through it all, the most important factor in the successful completion of the Tashi Gomang Stupa was the bond between the Crestone group and the many Tibetan lamas, artists and visitors from all over the world. There was a heartfelt exchange of blessings and devotion, of trust and compassion, of humor and anxiety. of experience and ingenuity.
On the day the stupa was completed, Tibetan horns and cymbals played beside the lamas on the hillside as they overlooked the scene. Young Westerners on top of the stupa guided the crane which lowered the spire and life force pole into the stupa. It was an exciting, memorable moment, signifying the remarkable collaboration between East and West that is the hallmark of the rise of Buddhism here.
“What to do now?” Why not build several retreat cabins where people could come and do solo practice in the pure clear mountain air and spacious skies of southern Colorado? Several cabins were funded and subsequently constructed of wood and adobe brick, with wood stoves, solar electricity, and compost toilets. A fourth cabin was added some years later. Open year round, they have proved over the years to be a popular aspect of KTTG operations for people of all ages and practices.
In recent years we at KTTG have completed two more major projects, notably in 2018 the complete upgrade and landscaping of the immediate surroundings of the stupa, including parking area, handrails, access road upgrade, etc. And in 2022 we managed to secure funding for the construction and consecration nearby of an accompanying Stupa of Enlightenment dedicated to Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, lifelong devoted high lama to the 16th Karmapa.
These projects could not have been realized without the hard work and dedication of a newer generation of KTTG executive committee members and directors, including Jacquelyn Zoe de Bray, Rene Evenson and the current director Njal Schold.
And we’ll keep going strong in the future! With plans for several more retreat cabins, the upgrade of present ones, and ever-closer attention to fire prevention and care for the land entrusted to us.
Anyone interested further in the story of how the Tashi Gomang Stupa was built should see the wonderful film documentary Eye of the Land, shot and directed by one of the close participants. Available through crestonefilms.com.
Lamas who have visited and supported the work of KTTG on the Tashi Gomang Stupa over the years include:
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Khenpo Khartar Rinpoche, Bardor Tulku, Tenga Rinpoche, Bokhar Rinpoche, Khenpo Lodro Donyo, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, Traleg Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche and Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.