By Nicola Bridges
Sitting on a small rock bench in the shade of a twisted juniper pine, I'm listening to the sound of soft chimes gently ringing in the breeze, gazing mesmerized at the famous red rocks of Sedona that draw flocks of visitors to this mystical town in the high Upper Sonoran Desert of the Verde Valley region of Arizona.
I came for the stunning rocks and to experience the vortexes — areas around Sedona of supposedly swirling energy believed by some to empower self-exploration, meditation and healing (though I don't quite feel it). The sight of Cathedral Rock, one of Sedona's most majestic and famous, is inspiring, no doubt, and the landmark Chapel of the Holy Cross that literally rises out of the high rocks is impressive.
But after a long day of hiking, perusing the crystal stores in town and having my aura read, I've found my sanctuary and favorite site of all after asking locals at lunch what I could see that most visitors might not expect.
I'm at the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park at the base of majestic Thunder Mountain, where meandering paths through the rocks and red dust are lined with pinion pines and junipers strung with Tibetan peace flags and the melodious chimes. Over a rise and around a bend, the main path leads to the reason people come here: a plaza featuring a towering and impressive 36-foot stupa — a Buddhist enlightenment shrine for Buddha Amitabha, the Buddha of Limitless Light.
Built in 2004, under the direction of American-born Jetsunma Ahkon, founder and spiritual director of Lhamo Kunzang Palyul Choling Buddhist Temple and the first Western woman in Tibetan Buddhism to be enthroned as a lineage-holder, the Amitabha Stupa was built to represent blessings for all.
The stupa itself is a peach-painted geometric monument rising to a golden globe and crown on its top, with a bronze embossed plaque in its center featuring Amitabha's embodiment, facing out over the valleys and vistas of Sedona from its mountainside position. Long lines of prayer flags hang from the stupa's top to the four corners of the plaza, flapping in the wind, while a 6-foot carved wooden statue of Buddha Amitabha sits cross-legged, meditating on the raised path overlooking the stupa plaza where I'm sitting silently in the shade.
Intentional visitors are drawn here seeking enlightenment and spiritual awakening. Those, like me, who stumble upon it — or are somehow drawn to it by the universe and recommendation of strangers — find a blissfully serene and hidden space, not visible from the road, where the humble followers of Tibetan Buddhism have built a cathedral respectful of their own divine tradition. It is a truly awe-inspiring, spacious place on land that native peoples also deem sacred, for visitors who favor any religion or none to walk in silence, just breathing in the high desert air and contemplating nature's wonders.
In the temple plaza they leave gifts of flowers, stones, pennies and personal trinkets at Amitabha's feet, along with notes on slips of paper provided, seeking help for those who are deceased or dying and professing love for the living. Many come to seek solace from their sorrow or for help healing themselves or loved ones. Others come with hope for good fortune, a long life or spiritual awakening.
Unseen to those of us wandering the Peace Park in silent contemplation or meditating at Amitabha's feet, the inside of the stupa structure, like others around the world, is filled with sacred items. It holds millions of mantras and prayers for peace and compassion, alongside ritual offerings and sacred mandalas for prosperity and well-being. It is also said to house relics from past Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as from some of today's 358 Living Buddhas.
It is these contents combined that are purported to provide the Amitabha Stupa the power to empower and alter the karmic energy of those who visit. As with the vortexes, I'm not sure I feel a surge of karmic energy or enlightenment. But after I place some coins, a moonstone from my pocket and a personal memento next to the other offerings and say a silent prayer, I'm certainly feeling lighter as I quietly head to explore another meandering path through the pinion and juniper pines, listening to the chimes and feeling at peace.
WHEN YOU GO
For more information about the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park: www.tara.org
Nicola Bridges is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park is at the base of majestic Thunder Mountain in Sedona, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Nicola Bridges.