Mangala Shri Bhuti
Interview Conducted by: Sarah Oliphant
Naomi Mattis came to Crestone in 1996 to see her daughter who was living there and found it to be ideal for practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over 25 years. Naomi raved about how outstanding the community was. “I’ve lived in so many different places,” she says, “and I’ve never seen this much awareness about what would really benefit humanity and the world…there is a lot of care…in this community when something happens to somebody, immediately people get what they need.” One of Naomi’s main teachers is in Crestone, as well as Mangala Shri Bhuti’s retreat center, which has twelve cabins in a remote area for students of Kongtrul Rinpoche.
Naomi gave numerous examples of why Crestone is an excellent place for those who are in retreat, residents dedicated to a spiritual path, as well as those who need a place for quiet in a stunning natural environment. “The quiet is very important here, just getting away from city noise…what you’re aware of shifts,” she says.
One of Naomi’s main concerns is the retreat center, where people come from all over the world to take part in 100 days of meditation and Buddhist teachings. She worries that people might have misconceptions about the nature of these retreats. “People don’t just go sit in a cabin for 100 days…when you come to retreats…awareness increases when people just have open space and time…there are [specific] instructions for these practices.” She notes that there is no electricity and they have to haul water up the hill. She feels strongly that “these retreats are very meaningful, very powerful.” She notes how those who are in retreat become more aware of the wildlife and the environment of the area. “You pay so much attention to rabbits, deer…we’ve had mountain lions, bears…the deeper you go, you start thinking about life in a different way, thinking about the world as it is and the world as it could be,” says Naomi.
Naomi seems to see the Buddhist teachings that she has taken refuge in as being connected to the place– the philosophy seems to fit in well with the people and the unique environment. She explains the teachings, “There is a lot of focus on how everybody is suffering…what creates this suffering…what would have to happen to end suffering…everything is related to how the mind works…practices are all related to training your mind…you’re not just on an automatic timer doing habitual things that you’ve always done or been conditioned to do. You really start paying attention.” She feels that people who undergo a retreat “usually come out feeling a lot more compassionate…we feel we are fortunate, we are learning these lessons b/c we have these tools to work with.” She feels that one learns a method for dealing with difficulties in life.
Naomi wonders whether Buddhism is truly a religion. “The rituals express the philosophy…but I don’t know exactly what a religion is…Buddhism believes that there are beings that have awakened…they are omniscient in a sense because they have awakened…but it’s not thinking “us and them,” it’s you aspiring to become what you are.” She describes an important prayer: “May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness…not having suffering.” “As you go deeper, there is no separate self at all…we are all one.”
“We are all buddhas…not just one…there is infinite buddhas…buddha does not have anything we don’t…accept for one thing- awareness of being a buddha…when we realize that, we realize everyone has the potential…all we have to do is remove false positioning and habits…intention is everything…the way you asses is, is this going to benefit? Or could this possibly transform…sometimes it gets subtle…”
When asked about how the Crestone Spiritual Alliance worked together to make sure that all voices are heard, she replied, “we make all our decisions on consensus… we have to come to agreement…we never seem to have any problems coming to agreement…we share a lot, though philosophies are different… similar general way of life”
It seems that efforts towards sustainability require a tight knit community. Naomi works at the gardens at Shumei, which she describes as a sort of “cross fertilization” of religious communities helping each other.
She emphasized that a lot of people come to Crestone to visit and “it’s part of the economy of this place.” When asked whether drilling would help a struggling economy, she replied “the thing is, will it enhance our economy, or Lexam?...those of us that really want to be here, we’re going to lose our shirts…having drilling is not going to solve it (economic or energy problems).” “ I don’t know what would happen to this town…would not be appropriate place (for drilling).” Naomi felt that her retreat center would have to relocate.
Naomi feels that there is no specific landscape needed to practice Tibetan Buddhism, but some places might enhance one’s practice. “Ultimately, no, you should be able to practice anywhere…the ideal atmosphere is to be in nature…that’s in the text…to be in nature with mountains.” She notes that, “When Tibetans come here, they always say it looks like Tibet.” Crestone might be one place where Tibetan traditions can continue in exile.