Earth Treasure Vase for Charok Hermitage, Nepal

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

Introduction to Charok Hermitage

Tucked away within the sacred lands, hidden valleys and high mountains of Nepal, in the Himalayan region of Solo Khumbu, one can find the cave hermitage of Charok. That is where, back in 1990, Cynthia met the 106-year-old lama H.E. Kushok Mangdon Charok Rinpoche. Realizing she had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask a question of the proverbial old wise man in the cave, she requested his guidance about what can be done to bring healing and protection to the Earth. In response Cynthia received the Earth Treasure Vase practice from Charok Rinpoche. And so the extraordinary journey, that still continues today, began…
H.E. Kushok Mangdon Charok Rinpoche and Ani Pema Chodron (c.a. 1982).

Pilgrimage & Burial Ceremony

In gratitude for all that had come from the Earth Treasure Vase practice, Cynthia and a small group of close friends returned on pilgrimage to Nepal almost thirty years later. They brought an Earth Treasure Vase filled with offerings connected to all the other Earth Treasure Vase locations to Ani Pema Chodron, Charok Rinpoche’s daughter who devoted her life to serving him. She is now in her 80s and continues to live in the Charok cave hermitage as her father did. In a small intimate circle including Lama Tsultrim (the lama who introduced Cynthia to Kushok Mangdon Rinpcohe) and Ani Pema Chodron, the vase was to be buried; weaving this sacred remote Himalayan refuge into the global mandala of Earth Treasure Vases.

You are invited to go on pilgrimage with us through this account written by Cynthia Jurs.

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.

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.
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 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 I 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 Earth Treasure Vase. We gathered at the appointed hour and with Lama Tenzin leading the puja according to tradition, we opened the vase to receive our prayers and through all the offerings, to connect the Charok Earth Treasure Vase with all the other Earth Treasure Vases 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 Earth Treasure Vase on so many pilgrimages over the years.

Mission accomplished! The group from left: Andre Lambertson, Tyler Hess, Cynthia Jurs, Lama Tenzin, Ani Pema
Chodron,Lama Tsultrim and his nephew. Bottom row: Ginny McGinn, David Nicol, Lama Tsultrim’s daughter Sonam and Lenya Reese.

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 Lama Cynthia, pouring them into her as a vessel. 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 sun rise 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.

An extraordinary group of friends bonded deeply with each other through this pilgrimage and shared the purpose of offering the Earth Treasure Vase to this particular sacred land of Charok Hermitage. Please meet some of the pilgrims here below.

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

Dr. Lenya Reese 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….

Reflections of fellow pilgrim David Nicol

David pictured on pilgrimage with Cynthia Jurs and Ginny McGinn.
After returning from Nepal, I still felt the presence of the enormous mountains as I metabolized 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 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.

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.

Cynthia transmitting the Gaia practice in Charok.

Full Circle

By going back to where it all began and offering an Earth Treasure Vase to Charok Hermitage, the global healing project has been brought full circle. The source of the Earth Treasure Vase practice and the lineage out of which the practice emerged, are now woven into the global web of all the Earth Treasure Vase locations. One can imagine the blessings of the lineage as a stream of nectar flowing from the remote Himalayas through the song lines of the Earth, reaching and empowering all those other holy vessels. Another powerful and sacred node has been added, contributing its own particular essence to this much needed and mysterious work of sacred activism.


Monday Mindfulness Meditation