Pilgrimage reconnaissance Journey
Our intention is to develop an illustrated pilgrimage route with map available for anyone to make this journey.
“You must paint this map and show it to many many people. Then they will be inspired to go on Pilgrimage,
make offerings, and initiate auspicious connections for many lifetimes.” KTGR”
These are the words Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche spoke to me as he viewed my initial sketchbook notes, scribbles and pocket-size colored map, which I had been carrying with me for several years. This folded, too-many-times-over, treasured map (due to living in my pocket wallet) was the first indication of “the diggings”, as in an archeological find, of the Dakini Map.
This was 20 years ago just prior to the turn of the millennium-century, during a time when I had a large adobe studio for my use in northern New Mexico. Khenpo Rinpoche was having dinner at my home in Boulder and wished to see some of my current work, the contemporary pieces especially. I showed him two out of the five Maitri Seed Series paintings. Then I decided to pull out from my pocket, the folded road map on which I had measured and outlined a Buddha tigse (the proper proportions of the traditional Buddha figure) and had drawn the figure of a dancing dakini. Sketched in graphite on a gas-station bought foldable road map, this one showing the states of Colorado and New Mexico. It was the first Dakini Map, an initial step into the final 8’ tall Dakini Map painting, which has now been exhibited twice over these many years. Khenpo’s words to me in 1998 were spoken like a command. He was very animated. I knew that I must make the Dakini Map public, and that it would be a significant project. I felt then, as I do now, the excitement and joy of connecting the diverse Buddhist and Shambhala practice communities to one another. Especially fortunate through the collective medium of their individual architectural monuments; namely, stupas & temples, and the traditional artworks they each contain — murals, sculptures, architectural ornamentations and gardens. I knew these stupas and their communities of dharma practitioners well, as I had painted murals in all of the stupas with interior shrine halls (three out of the four; Sante Fe, Questa, Shambhala Mountain Center). It was in the 1980’s, during several summers of painting murals inside the Sante Fe Stupa —the first one to be built of these four main public stupas— that I began the Stupa Portrait paintings in the three-part Pilgrimage Series.
At the time, when Khenpo came to my Boulder home for dinner, this fresh discovery of the Dakini Map Pilgrimage Route was huge in my daily consciousness as an artist! A friend and fellow artist living in Oregon, had given me access for several years, to his beautiful piece of land in northern New Mexico near Ute Mountain and the Colorado-New Mexico border. Nestled against the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Wild Horse Mesa, I had a small adobe house with a large adobe studio in the piñon and ponderosa pine forest on this acreage. This lovely refuge was generously offered for my living and art-making all year round. There, I spent many extended weekends (3-4 days/week) with my son Sean, commuting to Boulder for our life “in the city” where I maintained our family’s main home, and taught as a core faculty member at Naropa University. The studio time provided a remote country get-away for us, with Sean’s closest friend, Jampal Namgyel, often joining-in for these weekends in the woods and mountains under New Mexico skies.
The studio’s north wall was 18’ in height. That provided the large area I needed to compose the numerous initial studies, which eventually brought forth the Dakini Map. I purchased highly detailed US Geological Survey maps (checking that I could mark and paint them extensively to create a copyrighted full painting of my own). This was verified to be fine, as these maps are public domain. As a result, a few local rangers and map store owners became quite interested in my project. I built scaffolding in order to construct a 15’x6’ wall map. Aligning and taping plot survey maps one next to the other, encompassing a vertical 560 mile distance from the border of Colorado/Wyoming to Albuquerque south of Sante Fe, New Mexico. Then adhering white cutout stupa shapes in the respective locations of the existing main public stupas built (over a period of ten years), I had a complete map. With large rolls of tracing paper, I continued to sketch, over and over, first the Buddha’s tigse, then seeing the elongated subtle curve of the line between the stupa locations, I recognized that as the central channel to the dancing female buddha tigse. Marking, measuring, re-aligning my sketches, until one day it all fell into place. I had found the exact “great measurement” (cha chen Tib.) that stayed true to the dakini’s iconography. I could see how the four largest and main public stupas along the Rocky Mountain chain of North America, serendipitously matched up with the dakini’s dancing form and the main chakras of the human body; crown of the head, forehead, the mysterious heart center, the soles of each of the right and left foot, and the center petal of the lotus sun/seat the dakini dances upon. This unforeseen alignment felt prophetic and humbling all at the same time. The sacredness I had felt for years driving this route was made clear now, in this mathematically-inclusive mapped geography. WOW!
Back to earth, and the six-hour drive from Boulder to the studio. It was 303 miles one-way, and a magically beautiful Colorado-New Mexico trek, through three mountain passes and two high alpine valleys. Maintaining a life in the urban life-style of Boulder while equally spending time in northern New Mexico was wonderful for my creative spirit and intuition. I came to find such inspiration while driving, easily using cruise-control for much of the journey as the state highways took me through vast expanses of open land with little traffic during the week. Actually the most important measured driving was through an expansive open area at the border of Colorado-New Mexico, which required staying alert to allow free-range wild horses and antelope to cross the two-lane road unexpectedly, particularly at dawn or dusk. Becoming familiar with this route, I soon began to sense a sacred quality present in the geography itself, and I believe, inherent for eons in the landscape’s memory time (the perpetual tempo) and in this passage of common time (the recurrent drive).
The vast expanses of western mesa, the hogback ridges, the aspen-laced forests, the distant and close mountain peaks, some crowned with snow all year-round; along with the skies, ever changing with such palpable visual variety. From the northern area of central Colorado to the southern area of the New Mexico-Colorado border, where that State’s highest peak just under 14,000’, Mt. Wheeler, stood hidden in the heart of the mountain peaks just to the east of the studio’s land, sitting at 8000’ in altitude. This beauty and presence of sacred architecture initiated my curiosity about the possibility of a natural alignment between the landscape and the true proportions of a Buddha figure.
This Pilgrimage Journey for 2017, will begin on Earth Day April 22nd at Phuntsok Choling Retreat and Event Center, Ward Colorado. It will end on May 9th at Shambhala Mountain Center, Red Feather Lakes, Colorado —just prior to the Indelible Presence May Retreat, “Touching the Moment”. I am delighted to begin what is another chapter of the entire Pilgrimage Series of Artworks; Stupa Portraits, Stupa Medallions and the Dakini Map, staying with many friends and colleagues all along the pilgrimage route; documenting, photographing, interviewing, gathering for group meditation practice and celebratory offering feasts at the main stupa and temple sites. 5% of all donations toward this initial Pilgrimage Journey project, will be pooled and given with the offerings presented at the main stupa and temple sites.
All throughout these years, I have continued my research on the geology, natural and cultural history of the Dakini Map’s land surface, its history of human habitation, its territory and fuller story. In recent years I have added markings on the map to indicate additional temples and sacred sites of refuge, near the four main public stupas and along the driving route between them. Stay tuned to the website by joining my email list, as more news and images will be coming forth beginning with this “reconnaissance” journey.
Our intention is to develop a well-illustrated pilgrimage route with map available for anyone to make this journey. Eventually, a short film will accompany the printed publication.
May Khenpo’s command be actualized.
Eh Ma Ho!