Prayer Wheel Begins to Turn

The Wood River Journal
By Karen Bossick
September 14, 2005

With a prayer softly spoken in Tibetan, the Dalai Lama empowered the new Tibetan prayer wheel at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden Tuesday morning.

Followers believe the prayer wheel, which was a gift to the people of Sun Valley from the Dalai Lama, will now send out a million blessings and prayers for healing and compassion every time it turns.

Lamenting that he wasn't feeling well, the Tibetan religious leader arrived about an hour before he was scheduled to bless the wheel.

He graciously accepted a strand of marigolds--14 strung on each side to symbolize his role as the 14th Dalai Lama-- from Elizabeth Price-Asher.

Then he walked along a short winding path strewn with orange marigolds past Tibetan prayer flags strung between freshly planted aspen trees to a small pond overlooking the prayer wheel.

From there he descended alongside the creek where water splashes six feet down over rocks, turning the prayer wheel under a pagoda made of Douglas fir beams.

Marigolds were draped over 16 boulders representing Arhats, believed by Buddhists to be protectors of truth and clarity. Bouquets of flowers-gifts from well-wishes-sat atop smaller rocks.

In a short ceremony lasting about 10 minutes, the Dalai Lama tied a khata-a Tibetan ceremonial scarf--around the three-foot wide, five-foot tall prayer wheel. He placed a garland of marigolds on the wheel as about 40 onlookers watched, then proceeded to touch some of the raised symbols on it in a solemn manner.

The blessing over, he motioned for a handful of people, including Ketchum gallery owner Gail Severn, to pose with him for a picture at the wheel.

"When he grabbed my hand-well, I can't even put it into words," Severn said, patting her heart to show it was all a-flutter.

As soon as the blessing was complete, invited guests began their own pilgrimage through the garden, pausing to take pictures of the wheel as it made its slow turns.

Tsering Choephel, of Vancouver, was among those who walked around the prayer wheel a few times, her hand on it, her head bowed in prayer.

Choephel said her father was one of 70 Tibetan leaders who was forced to flee Tibet after China invaded the country in the 1950s.

She, her five brothers and sisters and their mother and father walked for four nights over glacial ice as they fled over the mountains of Western Tibet into Nepal.

"This is a beautiful wheel. I've never seen one turned by water before," she said.

Most Tibetan prayer wheels are smaller and most are turned by hand, Severn acknowledged. But Sawtooth Botanical Garden board members wanted those who use wheelchairs and those who don't have the use of their arms or hands to be able to share in the experience.

"This is the largest prayer wheel in the United States. And it's the only one that the Dalai Lama has actually come and blessed in its setting," she added. "It's appropriate for the garden since our mission statement talks about using plants for healing people and healing the earth."

Keith Pangborn, the garden's board president, called the project a miracle: "This happened because of a lot of good energy and a lot of hard work. There's no way we could have done this in 30 days under normal circumstances."

Indeed, the garden was just a six foot hole in the ground amidst a field of sagebrush 30 days ago.

Landscape architect Martin Mosko got the call on Aug. 9 and since has directed a army of crane operators and landscape workers, as local craftsmen and artists worked together to build a decorative turning mechanism to turn the prayer wheel and a pagoda to house it.

Landscapers began laying the sod last Wednesday. Workers installed the prayer wheel over the weekend.

"It's like a dream. It's gorgeous," said Mosko, wearing the traditional monk robes of the Buddhist sect he represents, rather than the Buddhist work clothes he has worn the past 30 days.

Elizabeth Price-Asher and Theresa Castellano-Woods ordered 10,000 marigolds-the national flower and color of India where the Dalai Lama lives in exile-after they were unable to get lotus blossoms.

They had the marigolds picked Thursday in Encinitas, Calif., and shipped to Sun Valley on Friday where 40 volunteers spent the weekend stringing them together with maroon ribbon.

Dozens of the garlands, which the Dalai Lama blessed during his brief visit to the garden, are hanging from a bike rack which was turned on its side at the entryway to the Garden of Infinite Compassion. They are available for a $20 donation to help pay for the expenses incurred in building the garden.

If you go...

The Garden of Infinite Compassion will reopen to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. today. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

An informational display at the beginning of the path tells guests about the garden and offers instructions for circling the prayer wheel.

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. The Sawtooth Botanical Garden has raised about half of the $300,000-plus it cost to build the garden, according to Director Anita Northwood.

Donations may be sent to the Sawtooth Botanical Garden at Box 928, Sun Valley, Idaho 83353.