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As to how "the local guys" view the Buddhists, Grussing says: "Their reaction to us seems open. They watch to see if we operate with integrity like they do, and if we do, they embrace us."
'Live with little desire'
Last October, at a ceremony attended by students from around the country — and briefly, by members of a Newton County horseback riding club — Rinpoche consecrated the land, naming it Katog Choling Mountain Retreat Center, or Katog Rit'hröd in Tibetan. He explained why it beckoned him.
"First, it is a quiet and remote environment, endowed with mountains, water, forests, practice caves and other naturally occurring supportive attributes," he said. "Second, it is complete with all the outer supportive elements for simple and unelaborate living with the capacity to provide basic sustenance of food, water and so forth. Third, for practitioners who come, their needs can be met simply, in accord with the two previous qualities, if they cultivate and live with little desire and greater contentment."
A couple who'd come from Hawaii for the blessing noticed that another nearby property, complete with a house and swimming pool, was also for sale. They purchased it and donated it, and Rinpoche now plans to make it a healing center.
As one woman who attended the consecration explained: "Rinpoche is very aware of the income level in Newton County and how many people need medical care. Among his students, there are many medical doctors and nurses, acupuncturists, and traditional healers. The resources available to him run the gamut. So he wants to take advantage of that for everyone here."
Despite so much activity, only about a dozen people actually live on the lands associated with the retreat center. And two of those, Rinpoche and his secretary, travel more than they are here.
Grussing's old traveling pal oversees the house that's slated to become the healing center. Two women have established themselves in separate, small houses, where they are making three-year retreats. Isolated and committed to meditation, they are supplied twice monthly with food that they have paid for in advance.
Three years ago, a family from Juneau, Alaska, bought a house on property across the creek so that they could live and raise their middle-school-aged son as part of Rinpoche's dharma center. They had planned and saved for the move for years.
Bob Briggs, a retired lawyer, went to Alaska with a team from the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund after the Exxon oil spill. There he met his wife, Kim Corrette, a registered nurse, who introduced him to Buddhist practice. In 2007, the two were part of a group of nearly 60 Americans who went with Rinpoche when he visited his monastery in Tibet.
Corrette says that being welcomed by the monks there gave her the sense that a "prophesy had been fulfilled." Their son, 12-year-old Tenzing, explains with relish that an ancient prophesy foretold that Buddhism would move to the west in a time of "steel horses and iron birds."
(The prophecy, which is said to date to the 8th Century, is often translated: "When the iron bird flies, and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the world, and the dharma will come to the land of the red man.")