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

Nepal: Tolu Gompa & Charok

Charok Hermitage, Khumbu, Nepal // Photo by Katie Teague

Nepal Pilgrimage; Coming Home to Gaia

We arrived in Kathmandu just in time for the full moon and the festivities celebrating the birth of Buddha, known as Buddha Jayanti. The Great Stupa of Bodhanath was specially decorated and people came from all over to make prayers and offerings during these holy days – which continued until the next full moon of Wesak, that honors the Buddha’s enlightenment and passing away. It was during this sacred time that we made our pilgrimage in Nepal, returning to the source of the Earth Treasure Vase practice, bearing two ETVs as an offering, and bringing our global mandala for the healing and protection of the Earth full circle.

ETV pilgrims at the Great Stupa of Bodhanath: David Nicol, Ginny McGinn, Tyler Hess, Cynthia Jurs, Lama Tsultrim, Andre Lambertson, Lenya Reese, Roger Sanford & Leslie Meehan. Katie Teague took the picture.

The Buddha on a throne, is carried around the Great Stupa on the full moon.

Lama Tsultrim and his wife, Ang Dawa, a former long-term member of Parliament representing the Sherpa people who now works tirelessly on behalf of women and girls and the environment.

From Kathmandu, we traveled overland to Maratika a famous pilgrimage site where Padmasambhava and Mandarava realized immortality and where we did a ceremony with the two ETVs to pray for long life for Mother Earth.

And then the trek to Tolu Gompa began….It took us 10 hours to reach this sacred place behind the veil – the crumbling monastery of the lineage that Lama Tsultrim inherited from both his father who recently passed away, and from Kushok Mangdon (Charok Rinpoche) who lived here for 50 years.

From above Tolu Gompa one can see the destruction by the earthquake
of the surrounding buildings. Thankfully the Gompa is still standing.

Born and raised at Tolu Gompa, Lama Tsultrim entered his first three-year retreat at age twelve and was given all the teachings of the lineage from these two great Lamas – his father and Charok Rinpoche – who expected him to continue the tradition at Tolu Gompa. He has now realized the time has come to return there to live, practice, rebuild this beautiful seat, and pass on the dharma for a new era of life on Earth.

The view from Tolu Gompa encompasses the entire Himalayan range.


Monks from the surrounding area came for all day ceremonies in the Gompa (temple) dedicated to protection and renewal and a special invocation of Tara. At the end of the day Cynthia presented Lama Tsultrim with a gift of funds raised by Alliance for the Earth to initiate the Tolu Gompa Rebuilding Project.


The two Earth Treasure Vases found their home at the center of the altar.

The following day we did a ceremony with the ETV for Tolu Gompa to fill it with offerings from all the ETV locations all around the world and more that were brought by the group for the occasion.

Offerings into the Earth Treasure Vase for Tolu Gompa…

The vase will live on the altar inside the treasure box crafted by Juan Handelin until this September when it will be buried at the base of the Stupa dedicated to his father that Lama Tsultrim will build on the hill above the Gompa.

This is the hill overlooking the entire Himalayan range where Lama Tsultrim’s father and his teacher, Charok Rinpoche, used to picnic. It is here that Lama Tsultrim will build a Stupa to his father and bury the Earth Treasure Vase.

We gathered on the hill to share our prayers and make offerings into the ETV…

Cynthia was moved to tears to bring these mountains into the global mandala of Earth Treasure Vases

David Nicol invoking the vast spirit of Gaia to bless the Vase.

Doctor Lenya praying for the healing of women’s bodies and new lives being born

Filmmaker, Andre Lambertson’s constant prayer whether spoken or unspoken was always, “love, love, love, joy, joy, joy”

May it be so! Ah la la ho!

“Bloom like there’s no tomorrow…” By Tyler Hess, Tolu Gompa, May 8th, 7am

Walking for 8-10 hours across gorgeous and grueling terrain, the group arrived at Tolu Gompa on the evening of May 7th. Tolu Gompa is the monastery seat of Lama Tsultrim, Cynthia’s friend and teacher in Nepal, and the guide for our grand pilgrimage. After dinner and rest, I awoke on May 8th to a gorgeous sunrise over the stone buildings, with fog encircling the hillsides and birdsong throughout the land. In that bewildering beauty, I sat for meditation near a rhododendron, and following my mantra practice, out came this writing…

The rhododendrons are still in bloom on the hillsides that circle this sacred ridge. What beauty they offer forth, demonstrating the holy act of impermanence with every petal that falls, browns, rots, and disappears back into the Everything. I am like that too, arising for a moment in time, to shine, and soon to dissolve back into The One, from where all came. What a sad thing some say! Woe is death, decries this dark-phobic culture, thus avoiding that which is inevitable, and true, and transformational. Ask the rhododendron, do you fear death? Are you scared of your temporary nature? And even more, does the reality of your impermanence stop you from blooming? HA! The bush says, “Here’s a thousand flowers! More will unfold tomorrow.

Feast, my animal kin. Enjoy what is mine to offer you. I am given, so that I may gift.” And yet, can I find the deeper trust in this impermanence? What happens when the rhododendron is stressed? Like a world in duress, what does the community do when continuation is threatened? Do the plants hold back in fear, refusing to flower or fruit? HA! The trees often bloom even more in those moments! As the Earth is in stress, what Gaia needs from her most conscious organisms, is to bloom like there’s no tomorrow, no next year, or season to offer the seed that we uniquely carry – because that could be the case.

Photo by C Jurs

And when the rhododendrons know that their community may be threatened, they go ahead and give it all away – metabolizing the darkness deep within their roots, through countless cosmic courtships, in a dance of rhizome romance, into flowers and nectar for the surrounding forest. They give it all away, even while not knowing if they or their kin will continue in the same form next year.

It’s okay that such an offering was bequeathed – hopefully for the next generation, and certainly for the many other beings who carry onward the life and light in other forms. For nothing dies entirely, only in distinct self manifestation imaginations can the dis-appearance seem as such. In some way, the rhododendron lives on, in the hives of the bees, as they subsist through winter on the nectar of those precious spring mountain blooms.

I wonder, does the rhododendron take refuge in the reality of its multi -dimensional continuation? When the petals drop, and wilt, and melt back into the earth from which it came, does the rhododendron smile, seeing the nutrients it has gifted its surrounding kin? If the petals wilt, and even if the plant from which they fell, falls down too, does the forest live on?

Is this our deeper work too – to go ahead and bloom, even if we can’t foretell who will come to the flowers we offer the world, and even if (rather especially if) our community is in jeopardy? For this is our organismic love imperative, our genetic and biological and familial duty, to the forest from which we emerge, to give our gifts in their brightest and best form, still synthesizing the most tasty nectars, and giving them away, both into the light to fly away, and gifted into the dark, so that we may continue receiving the nutriments which feed us.

It’s still okay to fear, to doubt, to worry – to some extent that is. These premonitions may provide opportunities for preparation, if they are transmuted into actions that serve the greater whole. The fear or awareness of winter to come instructs the rhododendron to bloom big. Our work is to alchemize that knowing deep in our roots, calling on our tribe of all kingdoms and realms for support, to bloom big, yet not attached to the goal, of keeping our dear forest alive.

The ever-smiling Lama Chundu with Tyler Hess & Andre Lambertson

Trekking on to Charok….
From Tolu Gompa, we walked to Charok (with a short helicopter flight from Phaplu to Lukla). Including our trek to Tolu Gompa, we walked 25 days and covered 111.77 miles.

Along the way we passed by many prayer wheels, turning them into action to send the mantras they contain into the world to benefit beings.

We also passed numerous “mani” walls – stones carved with mantras like Om Mani Padme Hum – the mantra of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Chenrezig

Up we climbed, making our way to an elevation of 13,500 feet and the cave hermitage of Charok, where in 1990, I met Lama Tsultrim’s teacher, Kushok Mangdon Rinpoche, his daughter, Ani Pema Chodron, and her nephew, Tenzin.

Many caves dot the steep hillsides and have been used by practitioners for generations to practice in retreat. Nestled at the base of a huge rock face, the main hermitage with its painted entrance, wooden door and windows, appeared out of the mist.

We received a warm welcome from Ani Pema Chodron who invited us into the three simple rooms she has occupied since she was 19 years old. She receives visitors who seek her out for her wise counsel on occasion but mostly she lives alone with her nephew, whom she has trained since he was a small child to be a Lama and carry on the lineage. We learned it had been 30 years since she had been to the nearest town of Namche Bazaar but Lama Tenzin often goes out to conduct local pujas and bring her supplies.

It was a great joy and deep fulfillment for Cynthia to tell Ani about where all the Earth Treasure Vases had gone over the years! She was sincerely interested and delighted to see the pictures in the booklet Cynthia made for her and hear the stories from all around the world.

Ani, who is an astrologer, consulted with Lama Tenzin and together they determined that the next day was best for us to bury the ETV. We gathered at the appointed hour and with Lama Tenzin leading the puja in the traditional way, we opened the vase to receive all our prayers and offerings to connect the Charok ETV with all the other ETVs that have been placed in the body of the Earth around the planet.

Just as the group left the hermitage in a procession up through the rocks to a site Lama Tsultrim had selected for the vase to be buried, two wild mountain goats appeared and watched us from above, then calmly walked ahead, showing us the way.

After invocations and offerings, a hole was dug (initiated by Lama Tsultrim’s beautiful daughter, Sonam, the youngest person among us). The soft Earth opened up and the vase was lowered into the ground wrapped in the whole Earth altar cloth that has accompanied each ETV on so many pilgrimages over the years.

Mission accomplished!

Cynthia lingered in the moment, with a heart full of amazement and gratitude…

The next day Ani gave astrology readings to everyone and Lama Tsultrim later requested Ani to transmit the blessings of the lineage to Cynthia, pouring them into her as a vessel.

Nepal ETV Pilgrimage 2018: Gaia as Teacher
By David Nicol

I’ve been back in California for almost three weeks now, spending most of that time recovering from and reflecting on the epic five-week adventure I had in Nepal with Cynthia and my fellow ETV pilgrims. Most of the time since my return I’ve been feeling extremely exhausted, heavy, and lethargic, unable to do much more than very simple functions. While I could attribute some of that to jet lag and physical exhaustion, I sensed that there was something deeper going on, some internal process that I couldn’t quite put my finger on and was not easy to be with.

In a session with my spiritual teacher this week, I was finally able to allow the heavy, 22 leaden feelings to just be. As I stayed with the experience, this heavy internal presence started to transform into a state of profound depth and power. To my surprise, I realized that this presence felt like an enormous mountain! Suddenly it became clear to me why I had been so heavy – I was in the process of metabolizing my experience of the Himalayas. Spending all those weeks in the presence of these great beings had carved a deep impression in my soul.

I recalled that when we had first come within view of Mt. Everest, I had made an intimate connection, and had prayed to the mountain to show me how to become as steady and grounded and majestic as it is. Careful what you wish for! I am starting to realize that these kinds of prayers really do get answered! It seems that something of the supreme presence of the Himalayas was transmitted to me, and now my inner nature is deepening and stretching in profound ways to digest that experience. This process encapsulates for me the deepest spiritual meaning of the journey. It was for sure a multi-layered experience, with rich learning from our exposure to sacred Buddhist sites and teachings, the Nepalese culture and people in general, and the deep relationships we forged with each other and our Nepalese host family and porters. But for me the greatest significance lay in the clarity that emerged over the course of the journey: Gaia is now my primary spiritual teacher. I had been turning toward a more Earth-centered spirituality for some time. Yet this pilgrimage crystalized an awareness in me that the Earth has indeed become my most intimate source and guide. And it seems that this spiritual orientation is becoming increasingly relevant for many.

When we stayed at the hermitage at Charok, at 13,500 feet in a tucked away slice of a Himalayan mountain that felt truly ‘behind the veil’, Cynthia shared with us the meditation on Gaia that has come to her. This is Cynthia’s creative adaptation of a traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice that replaces the invocation of the goddess Tara with that of Gaia.

Cynthia transmitting the Gaia practice in Charok

Reciting Gaia’s mantra 108 times at this sacred Buddhist site, I sensed the turn taking place all over the world, to re-purpose spiritual practice in every tradition to honor and evoke the magic and wisdom of the Earth itself, as a response to the urgent need of our times. Mountains and forests, rivers and oceans are living beings that can transmit profound wisdom to us if we are receptive to them. Gaia can be our direct teacher – and the most trustworthy guide of all.

Returning to Kathmandu, I was sufficiently inspired to get the Tibetan syllable Bhrum – meaning ‘Earth’ – tattooed to my right bum cheek. Commitment baby! Below is a nonrevealing close-up shot. ?

The pilgrimage continues: Charok to Thame

We spent six days and nights in the enchanted land of Charok, waking before dawn to unzip our tents and gaze at the mountain peaks directly in front of our eyes, then find a spot to meditate and watch the sunrise on the highest peaks. We hiked to the various retreat huts and caves, visited the stupa where Charok Rinpoche was cremated, and basked in the rarefied air and atmosphere of deep practice and peace that is to be found there. The fragrant juniper and blossoming rhododendrons embraced us, the moss-covered rocks and soft ground invited us to linger in the quiet, to slow down and notice the coming and going of clouds.

Cynthia’s tent was in the same location she had camped 28 years ago.

After saying goodbye to Ani and Lama Tenzin and trekked on to Thame Monastery, Charok Rinpoche’s birthplace where they were holding their annual Mani Rimdu Festival. The monks train all year to embody the dieties and protectors, dancing them into life before our very eyes.

Death is ever present on the path of awakening – especially for our egos who cling so desperately to the spotlight…

And now we are friends for life….

It was one of the gifts of the pilgrimage to witness father Lama and daughter Sonam, traveling together, sharing the path of this life….

And Dr. Lenya who brought medicines and healing all along the way…

Our extraordinary filmmakers, Andre Lambertson and Katie Teague, documented the pilgrimage with unstoppable energy and enthusiasm, rising with the sun, leading the way on our walks, becoming invisible behind the camera, pulling out wisdom, cajoling with lightheartedness, droning into the mists, and always finding the higher perspective and the hidden truth….

The best team ever!

Leslie Meehan with fiancé, Roger Sanford who carried the Tolu Gompa ETV

Interviewing Lama Tsultrim at Charok

Katie showing Lama Tsultrim what the drone was seeing of his homeland at Tolu Gompa

Ani got to know the drone too!

Then, on the last day of our trek I “stumbled”. “….

we climb quickly to 12,000 feet. The paths around these mountainsides are narrow, there is no room for a misstep, and at this altitude, one is quickly out of breath. Gradually I have learned to walk lightly, legs loose, almost gliding, and this helps a lot in times of vertigo. Some of the cliffside trail is less than two feet wide—I measure it—and skirts sheer precipice; nor is the rest very much better, for these mountainsides of shining grass are so precipitous, so devoid of trees or even shrubs, that a stumbler might tumble and roll thousands of feet, then drop into the dark where the sun ends, for want of anything to catch hold of.”

— Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

It had been raining the night before and the path was slippery. We were going to fly from Lukla back to Kathmandu that afternoon. Most of the group was ahead of me, a few behind. I was walking alone when I stepped onto an unstable rock, turned my ankle 31 and went over the edge of the trail. As I was tumbling head over heels down a steep incline with nothing to grab onto, I became aware that there was nothing stopping me and a long ways to go to the rocky river bottom thousands of feet below. I left my body. When I came to, I realized I had stopped, splayed out on the side of the mountain. It was so steep I could not stand and the trail was far above. I do not know how I stopped or what stopped me. Divine intervention for sure. I called for help. A face peered over the edge of the trail then disappeared. I was thrown a rope with a rock tied to the end. I grabbed on but could not get a foothold. The porter who heard my cries, somehow managed to clamber down to me (don’t ask me how) and pushed me up from below. I found a foothold and crawled to the trail. With a bloody hand and leg gouged deep, bruised and swelling, I hugged him and thanked him and kept on walking. I had to keep walking another two hours.

I lost my balance, and fell off the “path”. I was in shock for days. But I have always been aware that there is something so much larger than myself guiding and protecting me. I realized, although I stumbled and fell, I never left my path – and that it was Gaia who was looking out for me. Is always there. In that moment, the Earth reached out and grabbed me to Her. She had my back. I was held by Her, there on the side of that precipitous mountainside covered in shiny grass. It was not my time to go. Not yet.

Inspired by the Buddha dharma, and answering the call of the Earth Herself, the path I have walked has taken me all around the world…and now having come full circle with the practice of healing and protection I was given all those many moons ago, it is time to stand for the dharma path I have come to know: the Earth is my source of refuge, it is She who shows me the Way. Realizing our inseparability in the web of life, I have given my life to Gaia. May we all wake up upon the body of our Mother, Earth, our true home.

May it be so.