Community August 13, 2008

Sticks and Stones to Miracles

Prayer Wheel project unites people

For an extraordinary group of local volunteers that included landscape architects, designers, engineers, carpenters, gardeners, and artists, the Sawtooth Botanical Garden’s “Infinite Garden of Compassion,” home of America’s largest and only stream-driven Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Wheel, was a labor of love. It was completed just weeks before His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived to bless the wheel last September. The ceremony at the garden was the grand finale of the Buddhist leader’s Idaho visit—a whirlwind week of pomp, circumstance, and high-powered spiritual soirees.

The visit was spearheaded by world-renowned financier and part-time Sun Valley resident Kiril Sokoloff. The goal? To bring together individuals from the highest echelons of the financial world and 100 religious leaders with one of the world’s great spiritual leaders, in the hope of spreading universal love into the world of business.

A lofty goal, indeed.

But for the local volunteers, the spiritual marathon started five weeks before, when they designed and built the Pagoda in a garden that was being created at the same time by other experts. Their creation would house the wheel—a gift from the Dalai Lama.

Now, almost a year later, local artist Ginna Lagergren, who with husband Ken and a team of locals led by Larry Meyers, planned and oversaw the construction of the Pagoda, recalls, “It was a remarkable experience to have been part of that team.

“It was not a cakewalk, by any means,” she says. “No islands of tranquility. No prolonged hours in the lotus position. But internally, the project challenged everyone to rise to a higher level of spiritual awareness.”

There were stressful construction deadlines. Personalities. Huge cranes lofting 10- and 20-ton boulders.

“Most of us were working 24/7 because we were volunteering while still holding down day jobs. But it all came together in a five-week period.”
Keith Pangborn, the garden’s board president, calls 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 created this in five weeks under normal circumstances.”

The Prayer Wheel came from India, where the Dalai Lama has lived in exile since the 1950s when he fled Tibet. It has a copper base and is covered in melted 24-karat gold. It is painted with a variety of images and one phrase signifying the Buddhist message of practicing compassion.

There’s also a small exception to traditional Prayer Wheels: Close examination reveals a small pair of dancing sockeye salmon, a unique Idaho touch.

“If even one heart is turned, so then is the whole world.”
—Dalai Lama

Inside the wheel are prayers and messages of love written on rice paper by hundreds of monks. According to Buddhists, when the wheel spins, the prayers fly forth, spreading energy and love and spiritual enlightenment into the air.

Some say the wheel has the power to cure evil, or addiction, or inner disharmony.

One believer is Heather Anderson, who visited the Prayer Wheel after its blessing. Anderson said she had been plagued by depression for years, but experienced a tremendous relief after she visited the garden. Nine months later, the depression is still lifted, she reports.

“There is a vibration coming from the wheel, and I say that being a skeptic. I’m not a Buddhist; I’m an attorney. The only thing I do ‘spiritually’ is meditate. Twenty minutes a day, religiously.”

Anderson’s practice took on new meaning after she visited the Prayer Wheel, and she is trying not to overanalyze it. “I’ve just let go of being
a doubter.”

Her sentiments echo those of Lagergren, who, in the end, came to believe in the power of the Prayer Wheel, too. The Dalai Lama has his own belief on the subject: “If even one heart is turned, so then is the whole world.”

The whole garden “has a magical feeling, even before the prayer wheel was positioned on site,” says Richard Wiethorn who worked on the Pagoda. With all the individuals working on the garden and on the building structure, “it was a logistical challenge. Because of the ongoing site work, including craning a 30-ton boulder and a large hole which became a pond, we chose to pre-build the structure in the parking lot, then take it apart, number each part, and reassemble it on the final site. We had a very tight timeline, and it could have been living hell.” But everything went smoothly, he recalls, despite a personal incident which some might have considered a bad omen: “One day while crossing the pond carrying a timber to the far side, I fell right in, up to my waist in water, frying my new cell phone.”

As a student of yoga for five years, longtime freelance writer Kristan Kennedy has always been intrigued by the theories and spiritual practices of the East. While writing this story and by visiting the Prayer Wheel, she was reminded of the power of meditation and how it has changed her life.




This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.