Earth Treasure Vase: Global Healing Project
Linking our world in a practice of planetary protection & renewal.

One Woman’s Dharma Journey

by Cynthia Jurs

Cynthia Jurs

Cynthia Jurs (photo by Jennifer Esperanza)

In the 1970s I began traveling the world and at age 17 found myself working as a cook for expeditions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Broken open by that time and place, I turned to the study of yoga and the healing arts when I returned home, and soon found my first spiritual teacher, Swami Muktananda.

In late ’70s and early ’80s the Tibetan lamas began to come to the West. I first took refuge with Kalu Rinpoche in San Francisco and then began practicing meditation at Green Gulch Zen Center. When Thich Nhat Hanh came to California in the early ’80s, I quickly became his student and organized retreats at The Ojai Foundation where I became a member of the Board of Directors at the invitation of founder, Joan Halifax. In several seminal retreats for artists we explored the question, ‘What is the face of American Buddhism?’ Thich Nhat Hanh also began to lead retreats for environmental activists. These changed my life.

Hand-in-hand with practicing Zen, I also was exploring Tibetan Buddhism. In 1985, I went to Bhutan and met Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche and became his first Western student. Later that year, he came to the US and began to cultivate an international sangha, as students began to recognize in him a powerful teaching capacity.

Around that same time I met Tsultrim Allione, whose book Women of Wisdom affected me deeply. I began studying and co-leading retreats with her on the Mandala of the Five Buddha Families. In 1988 she introduced me to Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche and we joined a pilgrimage with him to Mt Kailash in Tibet. I studied with Norbu Rinpoche, organizing retreats for him in New Mexico and coordinating group practice sessions in my home.

His holiness, Charok Rinpoche at 106 years old in his home in Nepal when Cynthia Jurs met with him

His Eminence, Charok Rinpoche at 106 years old in his home in Nepal when Cynthia Jurs met him

In 1990, I traveled to Nepal to meet H.E. Kushok Mangtong, Charok Rinpoche. He was known to be more than 100 years old and had spent many years practicing in caves in the high Himalayas. The mountain region and place where he lived seemed like a land behind the veil, or a “bayul”, and he, a hidden yogi who carried the wisdom of the ages. Since this was such a rare opportunity, I contemplated deeply what to ask him that would bring benefit not just to me but also to the Earth and all beings. Little did I know that the practice of the Earth Treasure Vases would become such a deep thread in my life, rooting my dharma practice in the soil of engaged activism for the Earth. For the second time in my life I took refuge and received the name Sherab Zangmo from Charok Rinpoche.

I began to have many dreams and experiences connected to H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche and was fortunate to meet Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche. A reincarnated lama and respected dharma teacher of his own lineage, Dudjom Rinpoche had also appointed him as his spiritual representative in the West. I took refuge again with Gyatrul Rinpoche and received the name, Rigzin Wangmo. The next years were dedicated to receiving the transmission of the entire Dudjom Tersar Lineage from Gyatrul Rinpoche, accomplishing the preliminary practices and receiving many other teachings. I also spent time in retreat practicing the Pema Lingpa Ngondro of Gangteng Tulku and studying and practicing the dzogchen teachings.

In 1992 I was sent by Thich Nhat Hahn along with several other of his senior students to make a pilgrimage to Vietnam and visit the sacred sites and temples of his youth. We were asked to deliver the original hand-written manuscript of his book Transformation and Healing to his home temple in Hue. (Thich Nhat Hanh had been exiled from his homeland since the 60s and it was not until 2005 that he was allowed to return).

The honorable Thich Nhat Hanh

Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh

On August 11, 1994 I was given Dharma transmission by Thich Nhat Hanh and received the name, True Source (Chan Nguyen) in a “Transmission of the Lamp” ceremony. He passed the light of the true teaching on to many of his close students in those days, empowering us as dharmacharyas or dharma teachers in the Order of Interbeing, with a focus on what he calls, “engaged Buddhism.” Although I did not feel deserving, I am ever grateful for this recognition and kindness.

I founded Open Way Sangha in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a place to share the practice with others. When I asked Thich Nhat Hanh about how I should reconcile my love for both of these two very different strands of Buddhism and if I needed to choose one way over another, he responded, “This is the Open Way Sangha.”

I understood that we need to open ourselves fully and be prepared to learn from the wisdom inherent in all traditions. Thich Nhat Hanh always encouraged us to take refuge in our own home traditions, to go back to our roots and honor them instead of rejecting them. He taught us to respect all spiritual traditions, that the Buddha lives in each of us, and that the Dharma expresses itself in 84,000 myriad ways and in every language of this beautiful blue-green Earth we call home.

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At some point in those years, Thich Nhat Hanh also stated, “The next Buddha will be a Sangha.” It was a stunning comment to hear and to witness; a prophecy it seemed, coming from a living Buddha amongst us. It rang like a bell, rippling in all of us, echoing down through the years.

I think he was right. It is true. It is our collective awakening that is going to bring us into a new era of enlightened activity, beyond the unsustainable ways of life and limited understanding that characterizes the present age.

Members of Open Way Sangha at Earth Treasure Vase site above Los Alamos, NM

Members of Open Way Sangha at Earth Treasure Vase site above Los Alamos, NM

From the shore of collective abuse, oppression and suffering to the shore of liberation and peace we must go. With balance and harmony and prosperity for all, in recognition of each of our unique contributions to the whole of life – this timeless mandala of beauty and great perfection.

In spite of Thich Nhat Hanh’s directive around the Open Way Sangha, I struggled to reconcile myself as a teacher and a student of both Vajrayana and Zen. Then in 1999 I participated in a retreat led by Ken McLeod with Yvonne Rand and Ajahn Amaro. As Western dharma teachers, we looked at “Passing on the Dharma”. So many of us, like myself, have studied and practiced in a number of lineages. These wonderful teachers, along with Lama Tsultrim Allione and Joan Halifax Roshi, have done so much to pave the way for me and my generation of dharma practitioners in the West and women in particular, showing the way to embody the teachings and share the path with others authentically in our own culture and times. I am deeply grateful.

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In addition to Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche, Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche and Lama Tsultrim Allione, other notable Lamas in the Tibetan tradition I have received teachings from include, H.H. Dalai Lama, Kalu Rinpoche, H.E. 16th & 17th Karmapa, Nyoshul Khenpo, Dodrup Chen Rinpoche, Yeshe Dorje Rinpoche, Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche,  Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Adzom Rinpoche, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, Tenzin Namdhak Rinpoche, Lobsang Lhalungpa, Ani Tenzin Palmo, and Tulku Thondrup.

In other Buddhist lineages, these teachers and spiritual friends have also helped me greatly: Soen Sa Nim, Richard Baker Roshi, Kwong Roshi, Stephen and Martine Batchelor, Wendy Johnson, Trudy Goodman, Natalie Goldberg, Yvonne Rand, Joanna Macy, Sharon Salzberg, Ajahn Amaro, Ajahn Pasanno, and Ken McLeod.

Cynthia Jurs with a newly found Eagle feather after the burial of the Earth Treasure Vase in Alaska

Cynthia Jurs after the burial of the Earth Treasure Vase in Alaska

Nowadays, the dharma is also expressing itself to me in the teachings of indigenous elders and healers in the cultures we are visiting with the Earth Treasure Vase practice. I take refuge in the Earth herself as an embodiment of the Three Jewels – the precious teacher, the precious teachings, and the precious community or web of life. Calling on the Earth now, as witness to our humanity and with the great vow to be of benefit, I invite you to join me on the Path of Awakening.