Nov 192009

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If you’ve driven deep into the Poudre Canyon, whether for hiking, climbing, paddling or plain old-fashioned sightseeing, you’ve likely passed a single, unassuming sign for the Shambala Mountain Center – the Buddhist temple nestled in our beloved Northern Colorado mountains.

If you’re like me, you’ve been too distracted by the promise of landing a rainbow trout or finally sending that boulder problem to spend the day seeking spiritual wisdom.

Faced with heavy snow Saturday, we abandoned our plans to climb on the canyon’s 420 boulders, packed a dirtbag lunch of pancakes and bananas and set off on our own quest for enlightenment.

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The center itself rests at the top of a steep, winding dirt road reminiscent of the rocky paths leading to the gurus of old comics. Whatever mystique was granted to the approach by the rough road and dizzying drops to the side, however, was lost when we reached the center’s gravel parking lot.

Packed with cars (a disproportionate number of which were Subarus) sporting “Hike Naked” and “Envision Whirled Peas” bumper stickers, the lot seemed to belong more to a farmers’ market or Corepower Yoga center than to a temple of ultimate enlightenment. Needless to say, I was skeptical.

It’s here that I should clarify that I know very little at all about Buddhism or even spirituality in general. Other than a short, marijuana-fueled love affair with the Tao Te Ching, my education on all things relating to eastern spirituality has centered around  fortune cookies and kung-fu movies.

My initial disappointment with the Shambala Mountain Center, then, was less like a literature professor’s disdain for Dan Brown and more like a monster truck enthusiast’s discomfort at a performance of “No Exit”.

As we hiked the snowy trail to the Stupa itself my discontent continued to fester. Where were the spinning prayer wheels I’d seen in all those climbing videos from the Himalaya? Where were the long haired, wild-eyed wise men? All the sights the trail offered at first were cheap buildings, rented trailers and a gift store and bookshop.

I was all but ready to turn around and spit when we reached the Stupa. Some five or six stories tall, the temple is brightly painted and decorated with countless gold lead covered statues, the building –– the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya ­­–– more than lived up to even the most outlandish of my expectations.IMGP1262 008

In accord with what we were told is a Buddhist practice of reverence, we circumambulated the church before entering. Once through the building’s large wooden doors, we were greeted not by a chorus of chanting monks (my secret hope), but by a single room centered around a twenty-foot statue of Siddhattha himself.

While we dusted the snow off our coats and Steve, apparently unaware of the glares coming from the other visitors, took countless flash photographs, we managed to overhear the last of the tour.

Though the details of the construction and history of the Stupa are fascinating, I’ll leave those to the experts – an account of the building’s history can be found here.

In talking to those in the Stupa and around the mountain center in general, I learned that many live year-round at the center (the reason for the cheap trailers), practicing archery, yoga and other traditional Buddhist arts pursuing their own paths to enlightenment.

Seeing the blissful calm in the faces of the center’s residents, I found it hard to resent what had seemed to me to be the shoddier aspects of the center. It occurred to me then that these cheap buildings were part of the very nature and idea of this place. Their very cheapness seemed to say that the day-to-day activities that they housed needed no frills or reverence. That those activities, like the buildings themselves, were peripheral — scattered around a magnificent, ornamented center.

Photo Cred: Stephen Benton

Driving Directions from CSU:

  • Head north on Shields St.
  • Turn west at CO-14/US-287 N
  • Follow CO-14/ US-287 N and take a slight left at Co Rd 74E/Red Feather Lakes Rd.
  • Turn left at Co Rd 68C
  • Turn left, destination will be on the right

Directions courtesy of Google Maps

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