RED FEATHER LAKES - About an hour from Fort Collins, in a sweeping meadow in the rolling mountains, you might be surprised to find a 108-foot-tall ornate building shaped a bit like the Taj Mahal.
It's a stupa, the largest in North America. And not far from The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is the Shambhala Mountain Center, a 600-acre Buddhist retreat (which includes the stupa) founded by Tibetan Buddhist and meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The stupa was built as a memorial to Trungpa Rinpoche, who died in 1987.
"I started designing it 27 years ago and I'm still working on it," said Joshua Mulder, lead designer of The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, which is considered one of the most significant examples of sacred Buddhist architecture in North America. "I make additions little by little."
A stupa is said to promote harmony, prosperity, longevity, good health and peace. A force of balance, they also bring blessings to the sites on which they are built.
A stupa, Mulder explained, is a "representation of one's complete open heart. The white part represents one's intrinsic basic goodness. All the colors and gold represent the radiance that come out of one's resting mind and resting heart."
In 1971, Trungpa Rinpoche traveled from the Kham region of Tibet to Colorado to establish meditation centers.
"Chögyam Trungpa wanted a contemplative center outside of a city. He didn't want a large group of people," Mulder said. "He wanted something private. People come up here and they do retreats; they get away from the speed and confusion of general city life."
The center, which is open to the public, offers spiritual exploration, outdoor recreational activities and more than 100 year-round programs and retreats - from two days to an entire month. Retreats feature teachings on mindful living, indigenous wisdom traditions, contemplative arts and, most of all, the teachings of the Shambhala way. The Buddhist practice is grounded in the notion that everyone possesses a fundamental nature of goodness, a world view that is tested by an age of "greed and aggression."
Each year, programs and retreats draw an average of 3,000 participants from all around the country. The center is also home to 50 staff members who live on the grounds in tents during the summer months and cabins in the winter.
"There's home life happening here," said Travis Newbill, center employee. "We watch TV, we listen to music and we even have dance parties. There's a community/village feel to it and meditation, studying teachings and exploring that together is part of it."
The center concentrates on building a community - as well as a business - that is profoundly linked and based in Buddhist principles, said Michael Gayner, executive director:
"Being kind, having an ethical approach, being clear and using all experience as an opportunity to develop the good qualities that any spiritual tradition would share."
RED FEATHER LAKES