Ani Chotso and Diane Short
White Jewel Mountain
Interview Conducted by: Adriane Ohanesian
Originally from Santa Cruz California, Ani (Nun) Chotso first began visiting Crestone about 10 years ago. For the last three years Ani has made Crestone her permanent home. Diane Short has been in Crestone for only a year. Originally from New Jersey, she began traveling after college. In 1972 after traveling extensively through India, and Nepal she became exposed to Buddhism. After Diane returned from abroad, she eventually retired to Crestone. Both Ani and Diane associate themselves with White Jewel Mountain. The organization is affiliated with Tibetan Buddhism, and follows the teachings of Adzom Rinpoche. White Jewel Mountain offers individuals the opportunity to learn the practices of Tibetan Buddhism through many programs and retreats that are offered in Crestone, Colorado. (www.whitejewelmountain.org)
Ani was raised in a Christian home, and has always considered her self to be a spiritual person. When at one point in time she prayed to Jesus, she now reflects on her past, stating that: “if there had been any Buddhism anywhere in my childhood I would have been drawn to that first.” She has been to Zen Buddhist retreat centers in California near where she grew up, and was very attracted to the meditation practices. When she was lead to Crestone by some friends, she quickly became involved in the spiritual community: “I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time but I was so, my heart was just so pulled, and I took refuge and became a Buddhist in the Tibetan tradition.” A year later Ani became a nun. Since she has been ordained, Ani has been to Nepal and India on Buddhist pilgrimage and states that, “This is very much like Tibet here [Crestone]... the big flat plain and the big mountains… I’ve hears that a lot of the lamas say that this is very much like Tibet here.”
Since living in Crestone Ani has also adapted Native American practices into her Buddhist life: “I follow my heart. It turns out that I kind of interweave my Buddhist practice with Native American practice, being in connection with the earth, with nature.” She attends sweat lodges, and has studied with Native American teachers. Tibetan lamas have encouraged Native American practices, claiming that: “ Americans need to get in touch with the earth and nature, through the native American practices in order to do the higher practices in Tibetan Buddhism.” Ani finds this to be true, although at first she was worried that is would not be acceptable to practice both. She has found that:
There’s something that we need as westerners to connect back with nature because we’ve become so separated and so fragmented in our selves…we’re so alienated I think from ourselves, from others, from nature, and that’s what the native American practice does, it brings it all back holistically for me so that when I do go back into my Tibetan Buddhist practice I can brings my whole self…
The San Luis Valley, and Crestone have become a significant area for Diane and Ani, and they both feel that the addition of natural gas drilling would have a significantly negative impact on the religious communities. Crestone draws many individuals to the area through religious retreats which as Diane stresses:
This is such a special power place, and has been, you know, for centuries, that, it is inconceivable to have drill rigs out there…in retreat when you’re meditating, noise pollution… that is why we live in such a remote place, that’s why I drive an hour to the grocery store. So to have oil and gas generators, pumping generators, around the clock, it will really spoil it…not to mention the air pollution and what might happen with the water, which is a very unique situation here.
Ani added, that although drilling:
…Wouldn’t make the place less sacred, but it would destroy the life here, and it would take who knows how long for I to recover…the mountain is sacred, this is a sacred range, our sacred mountains…It’s a really powerful place where if you’re interested in meditation, I think people can have experiences, and a lot of teaches have come here who have endowed it with special qualified that way.
Ani describes that Crestone has a certain ability to make individuals confront the “garbage” within oneself. Claiming that one can’t avoid anything about oneself, regardless of whether or not an individual is spiritual.
…It makes you face all the stuff that you don’t want to look at in yourself…all the garbage has to come out before you can get rid of it…that’s the power of this place, that’s what makes it sacred, that’s the power of this place…it is an amazing place to meditate, if you can, get all the garbage out, clear it out, sit, sit with that open space that you’ve created, it’s amazing.
Ani also fears the negative environmental pollution and its impacts on the people, animals, and air. She believes that money, attention and effort should be applied to creating cleaner forms of energy: “the money they spend to do the damage that they’re going to do for the little bit of profit they’re going to get, if they could just spend that on other ways of creating energy”.