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The Diamond Mountain Blog

This is an unofficial blog of news and info from Diamond Mountain University and Retreat Center which was founded by Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of the Dalai Lamas.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Calendar of Buddhist Holidays, 2009

It's that time of year when Rashi Gemphil Ling in Howell, New Jersey releases their annual calendar.  What makes this calendar so special?  Aside from being a product of Diamond Mountain's parental center, this calendar has the date for Buddhist holidays as approved by the Tibetan monastic system.  What this means is that we can be in-sync with our dear Sera Mey Monastery and celebrate these holy days along with them.

So update your iCal, Outlook, or other datebooks via this handy page on the Diamond Mountain website: Calendar of Buddhist Holidays.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 21

Through the and tired and tear-filled but smiling eyes of Ben Kramer.

Today was our last day of work before the inspection. It's Tsechu, Je Tsongkhapa Day, Solstice, and the first night of Hanuka.

At the end of our efforts here to reach this deadline, there is a building. This physical structure is a symbol of an effort of will that has had to move through layer upon layer of thick mental barrier before it could even begin to reach the earth that has been moved into the shape of the dome. Every gram of earth represents a pound of affliction pulled aside from the path the would have otherwise barred our wills from pushing our bodies into this seemingly impossible task.

Everyone has changed who has had their hands in this project. We have gained the gift of our own accomplishment. We have seen what will can be mustered through the ever-growing power of love for our friends. So many emotional times have come and gone. I have tried time after time to tell my precious friends, my fellow soldiers how much I value them, how much they have changed me, drawing out new strength in me through their tireless efforts and my yearning not to fail them. As I said goodbye to friends tonight, there seemed no more to say. I know that they know. I see that they have seen the same miracle in me and in themselves.

All we have to show to other people is this building, but everyone who worked there knows that the secret is in the hearts of those who have dedicated themselves to this task.
Now we return ourselves back into the world and test our new found strength on the world at large.

A great miracle happened here amongst these great and holy people. I don't trust myself to name, to credit each of those who deserve credit. I mostly think of Bert.

Most of us our leaving tomorrow. Bert will be here.
We all congratulated each other on the completion of our task. Bert praised us and rejoiced with us. He gave us the gift of feeling our completion of this task.
He will keep working. After the inspection the dome must still be plastered to seal it for the winter. He still has a lot of work ahead of him before his break comes. He doesn't mention this. He just thanks us; smiles with us; cries with us.

I expect we will pass our inspection tomorrow. The building is sealed. The meditation dome is capped. The shape of the great building is beautiful.

There's nothing like it. Pictures don't do it justice. You just don't see the dome without the adrenalin that it takes to make the steep ascent to the peak of that hill. The inspector will get to see the real dome. Each step of the climb, each hard fought foot hold up the rear path to the dome intensifies the shock of this great physical structure at the top of the hill, so far beyond roads, beyond ground.

It is a structure dwarfed by the friendship, the camaraderie, the love, which has been forged in the hearts of the warrior angels who have given their wills to its formation.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 20

From under midnight stars, Katrina Siazik types:

Sometimes we work late into the night with the generator humming in the near distance and lights shining in the valley below us. Tonight is one of those nights. I sit here under the completed dome structure listening to the quiet rhythm of cobbers still slapping on the mixture of mud and straw to shape our precious dome walls. With only one more day left to finish the dome, the crew worked until 9:30pm with Bert applying plaster to the entry way, and the rest of us finishing our duties of making cob, shaping the dome, and lying the cobblestone for the front door. Every inch is now covered with cob, just a few more areas need shaping before applying the whitewash and then plaster.

Our work day begins around 11am offering everyone enough time to do their morning practice, whether it be yoga or meditation, this helps set a divine intention for the day on the mountain. at 10:45am we gather at the campground to pile into the back of pickups which take us up the steep and rocky dirt road to the trailhead. To ensure silence near the retreat area, we must ascend the steep terrain of the back side of the mountain with our gear for the day. This is not an easy task, and you can imagine the descent at night can be slow and dangerous. On the hike up, I always know I'm getting close when my shins brush against a few shin-daggers on the trail and I step over the prickly pear near the top. Winded, we set our packs down and all gather in a circle for council.

This is our special part of the day where we tune into each other. Even though there is much work to get done and the deadline is approaching, we still take the time to patiently and quietly listen to each other without any inner dialog of our own. We speak from our hearts and set our intentions for the day. I believe that this is the reason why we are still going strong. It gives us time to tune in to everyone, allowing compassion to flow forth, keeping us open and connected.

We are blessed to have mild weather right now. It is not too windy or cold. The occasional hot coffee or cocoa being passed around helps spread the smiles. Although smiles are not hard to come by around here. Building an earth dome is hard work, but with a team full of love, support and understanding it is hard not to smile. Our bodies ache with soreness, we get tired and exhausted, cold and wind burnt. Yet I look around and all I see is encouragement and support, laughter and the occasional song being sung. We go on. We know that what we are doing here is much more than building a structure. There is something greater and more powerful being created here and it is all done with love. Each one of us will take this creation with us when we leave. For our work here has changed us, it has opened us. We will go home to our family and friends and work place and every one we encounter will be touched with this divine creation inside of us, this magic that is held in our hearts.

It was a clear starlit sky tonight. I sat by the fireplace and looked out into the lit valley listening to the pounding of the cob being applied to the dome. It is a beautiful rhythm. No one here is giving up on this project. We will work well into the night if we have to. One day left – it will get done, it will pass inspection. It is perfect. The date couldn't be more perfect. Dec 22 the day after solstice, Je Tsongkapa day and Tsechu. This day marks the return of light and miracles for us.

We had many new beautiful angels with us today: Jill, Laurie, Will, Mercedes, Alex and Eliana all came up. Eight of us who were here for the long term left last night. I will miss everyone dearly. I am so very grateful to have been here when I could, I will hold you all in my heart. I'm not sure what I'm going to do when when it is done. For the first time in my life, I haven't been planning or thinking ahead into my future. I've just wanted to be here with everyone in the present while we work on something greater than us, more powerful than we know.

Thank you Bert, for being our fearless leader, holding the space for us with tolerance and love. You are love. For this we are grateful.

Images of the Day, December 20, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 19

From the tireless servant we call Nicole Davis:

Today the dome got its cap. Earle and Will fastened it on just as the sun went down behind the mountain. I stared gaping while Earle carried the skylight up the ladder by himself, both hands on the skylight, no hands on the ladder. The masterful Canadian-made concrete ring, all fastened with bolts, now proudly anchors down the skylight...and now the circle is complete.

Meanwhile, the cob strike force was working their way around the dome, covering the last vestiges of white bag in soothing brown mud. Will installed flashing under what is soon to be the stargazing roofside loveseat. Jesse continued to patiently and skillfully trim the front door, while Laurie worked on the doorstep below, cobbling. Not cobbing (covering the dome with earth/sand/straw mixture) but cobbling (installing cobblestones). Viet cleaned the rocks with muriatic acid to get the lime plaster off and make them all pretty for the inspection. Bert went around with a big smile all day.

These past few days have been a mix of emotions for me, with the deadline approaching fast and our close family gradually disbanding. I am constantly on the edge of exhiliration and exhaustion at all that I have experienced, much of which cannot be put to words. In the last sixteen months working on this project, I have been to just about every place imaginable. When we put down the first earth bag in November 2007, I had no idea how magnificent a place we were creating. Now every day as I come up the hill, I'm awestruck by the magical elven palace that sits at the pinnacle of our love. For me, the Lama Dome is not just a place on a hilltop, it's a place in my heart. All who enter there enter here and stay. And that is every single one of you.

I'll miss Teddy, who flew in and stole our hearts, Will, whose potter's hands sculpted fine features in the cob, and my dear Ehrin, Viet, Steph and Elisha, whose love is boundless. I pay tribute to them, and to JohnEO, Ben, Matt, Katrina, Jesse, Jim, Ron, Dennis, Chuck, Earle, Karl, Christine, John, and Roger, whose steady work over the last few months has shown me the strength that exists in my own heart, to those who were here for a day or a month, and to those who supported us with food and funds. And to Bert, I love you tremendously. It has been a great honor to build this slice of heaven with you.

Two days left!!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 18

From the shining mind of Elisha Knapp:

Today began with a light dusting of snow. Tempatures were still freezing by the time we clibmed the mountian and the wind was blowing. Mid day the sun descided to grace us with its glory.

Today was our Canadian contingent's last day on the mountiain (John, Roger and Christine). Its difficult to go and to see people go, but we must pass on what we have gained through this holy effort. It has changed each of us in deep profound ways that may not be readily aparent. Including all of those who have given support for the project through their thoughts, wishes, and donations.

With the inspection deadline growing steadily nearer, energy amounts. Today we got a significant amount of cobing done. Tomorrow we will have the entire dome covered and will work on filling out the shape. With three more days...the Dome, and our hearts, become ever more beautiful.

Images of the Day, December 18, 2008
Images of the Day, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 16

From John "The Hammer" Buchanan:

I worked for one of the largest concrete companies in Vancouver and my Portuguese boss always told me with a thick accent; "John, keep it low profile". He was of course referring to my pay raises and not my ability to finish concrete. Anyway, I find myself on top of the Lama Dome on a windswept mountain pouring the circular concrete rim for the clear plastic skylight which fits on top of Lama Dome itself. This has been a fiendishly difficult task which has required all of my knowledge and know how. Thankfully I have had the blessing of my Holy Lama by my side.

From the Volunteer Coordinator:

We quickly raised the $150 for the dome worker to stay until the 22nd. Thank you for the overwhelming response. You are so amazing! If you still want to donate to the project, we are accepting donations for construction costs on the Diamond Mountain web site, just make sure to designate the purpose of the donation as Geshe Michael and Lama Christie's Three Year Retreat Cabin. You can also offer your donation to sponsor a worker to help come and work on the interior of the dome, work which will begin this spring, by contacting nicolekdavis@gmail.com

Images of the Day, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 15

From the fragmented pile of a stoneworker, Dennis.

Well, the ladies and gentlemen behind this operation need their time off every evening. On most occasions, much sought after delirium in the Kitchen Yurt eventually leads to activities in the temple. I am proud to have dozed off through most every movie projected onto the wall. The safe shelter of adobe blocks also frequently hosts a battle on the chessboard, or (for those who still have it in them) answering a homework question or 2. Thank yous go out to fine students that you are, you all know who you are (including Ben, Viet, and Aaron) who aren't only volunteers. The best rewards come during DMU term, especially when Geshe Michael asks us to dress up for his Karmic Management Training course. Thank you everyone for welcoming me out into your desert home!

Getting the stone work done is worth a cheer as we are one mile-stone closer toward reaching our goal before the inspection next Monday. This part of the project deserves a huge thank you to Roger, John and Ron who jumped in to haul boulders requiring 4 men and a couple of pry bars. They became bottom pieces to the westwork of the entry vault. It is here where the stone wainscoting morphs from a row of single boulders to a bold front facade. Just as Dan-Viet and I fashioned the final pieces adjacent to front door, Christine surprised us by scoring fluent patterns in the cob, they compliment the puzzle below and it was totally worth picking my head up to see. It was also the first interesting addition to the front of the dome since Becky completed her own project inside the vault, and I can't help but stare in awe! Sometimes I want to invite you all to come and see for yourselves. Actually I figure you'll get your chance with the photos we've put up. The professional photographer now on site to document progress has provided ample opportunity for you to get in on 10% of the action.

Also worth mentioning are the 25 who returned to the Sky Island with surprising faces: Matt, Will, Karl, Katrina, Aaron, Stephanie and Nile.

+Guy and Shashadri showed up with a platter of cookies and a case of coca-cola. Just take the credit!

+Check out Luke's sacred geometry on the back door.

Later on Bert gave the announcement to clean up early, and our teachers were coming to see the dome.

To the hearts of noble aryas.

One of the volunteers who is currently here has a plane ticket to leave on Wednesday but could stay until the 22nd. If anyone would like to donate toward the $150 fee to change her plane ticket that would mean we'd have one more dedicated worker here until the deadline! Please email nicolekdavis@gmail.com if you would like to help.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 14

From the beginningless mindstream we now call John E.O.:

The steadfast continue...

Despite intense winds in excess of 40 miles per hour last night and
continuing into the afternoon (the temple yurt fell down and its lattice
work needs to be replaced, as it was shredded into pointy bits and
shards), we climbed up the hill. We went up the back way, and will do so
until the inspection.

Sometimes you show up already tired and then you hear that someone else is
not feeling up to it that day and suddenly you are suffused with the power
and the will to rise up and be strong and steady.

The stone work is looking fine as it nears it finish along the whole
bottom of the dome. Cobbing is slowly turning into the machine that the
bagging process was. Some need to re-identify ourselves with new labels,
as both baggers and dirt miners become cogs in the cob machine.
The trench slowly gets deeper. This particular trench is for water that
sneakily gets through all of our other trench drains. I'm reminded of
Geshe-hla's story of Holy Khen Rinpoche's roof leakage being caused far
away from where the leak appeared. As usual, we have to dig deeper to get
to the true source of the issue.

Some buttresses were pulled the other day and there was some settling of
the dome. The irony of the process was that it is very unsettling. We
believe it is minor, but fortifications will happen, and David will get to
play with the welder.

Allison has left us for Tucson and we will miss her greatly. She has been
cooking us wonderful meals and makes our day complete as we gather in the
kitchen yurt and dine together.

We just left the dome tarped and secure. Our tarp science has advanced
and we'll see how stout our last attempt was in the morning.

Much love, and thanks for listening,
we love you...

the crew

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 13

From the MacBook of Venerable Gyelse:

On top of the mountain, blue sky, wind, and more wind, the wind blowing so hard that it almost blew Jim Dey and Gyelse off the dome. Dust in the eyes, jack hammer going, countless trips with the kabota to bring up dirt to make cob with, chain saws, firewood, the crawler bringing firewood up the hill, stoking the stove to dry the bag, the cob, more water, dirt, dust, mud, cold fingers growing warm as they push the cob into the wall, cob and more cob.
Another momentous day on the dome. 

As the sun reached its zenith the crew set to work, all you could hear was a steady sound the sound of tap, tap, tap, like woodpeckers coming from all sides of the dome. People were tamping out the cracks that had formed in the cob over night. At the end of each day we admire our work, the smooth and graceful walls we have created and then in the morning we come back to cracks and fishers caused when the cob dries. After the cracks are all "sutured," as Jim likes to say, they are then filled with more cob and slip and again smoothed for another try at that beautiful smooth finish we are going for. You can see the cool designs on either side of the front door that Bert and Christine have done.

Then the excitement began when Bert removed the braces inside the dome that were supporting parts of the upper dome, and now we wait to see what will happen. Marks were made on the inside to see if there will be any shift, so far so good. The cobbing on the outside of the walls grows ever higher and has reached all the way around the dome. We now have a series of steps climbing up on two sides of the dome, beautifully sculpted into the dome using flat rocks found on the mountainside. One will go to a star gazing seat and the other all the way up to the top of the dome if repairs are needed.

The Lamas are coming home tonight so it was our last chance for a while to bring up all the dirt and sand we need to make cob. We are excited to see how they like their new home with the doors and windows all in and soon the skylight too. This winter they will be doing their two-month retreat here at DM.

Spirits are high, and the work crew is determined to cover as much of the dome with cob as we can before the inspection, we have one more week, and we are getting closer to the top. We have different groups making cob and slip and cobbing the walls, and jumping in wherever we are needed. It is great fun and hard work, and glorious sunsets to cap it off.

Photos of the Day, December 12. 2008


Friday, December 12, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 12

From the noodle of Matt Gallup:

It’s difficult to summarize one day of work on the Lama dome. My man, john.e.o, tasted the rock we were digging out of the new drainage trench today. This is a normal thing to do up at the dome. I tasted the mud I was making for the bags one day. It seemed perfectly normal to do this. What’s this rock taste like? Is the mud ready? The connection to the project is very personal for those of us working on it.  

Today, we had a few new arrivals. Karl Whiting came back to much applause. The man is as strong as a horse and a heart as big as his smile, which is huge and constant. He was sporting some new hard core work boots and a high tech back brace, or as Ben Kramer calls them, Man Girdle. Earle Birney came from Tucson. He comes four days a week and works in the big city the rest of the time. He put some serious hurt on the trench john.e.o and I were working on. Earle came in and started widening the trench, knocking down the walls with the jackhammer. At first, we resisted this but Earle is wise and the method to his madness became apparent by the end of the day. This trench will divert the water the seeps through the rock from uphill and ends up around the dome. Teddy Sczudlo showed up from out of nowhere. He’s formerly of NYC now of DC (Washington, that is) and he saw the video we made of the dome project in NYC. He decided to come and help us then and there. This project is kept rolling by people like Teddy; angels that just fly in and show up to help. I should mention that Teddy is totally awesome and to have him here is a treat.  

Most of the crew was focused on making and putting up cob on the exterior walls. With so many people focused on this, about sixteen people, we made some serious progress. There are some beautiful curvy designs happening in the cob around the front door. I need to mention the doors. They are works of art. Dark mesquite wood and light oak with mesquite designs on both sides. There were hand made by Luke who lives down the road. An amazing guy who has volunteered a lot of time.

Allison made some Spanish rice and mildly spicy enchiladas for dinner with banana bread for dessert. Dinnertime in the kitchen yurt is so cozy and happy. Lots of laughter and warmth in there tonight. It’s like family time. Outside the moon is full and at it’s closest to the earth for the year. There’s a warm breeze coming in. A beautiful night. Wish you were here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 11

From the laptop of Nicole Davis:

Yesterday was a day off (even though Bert and Jesse went up to the dome anyway, just for fun) and today it feels like we did as much work as we normally would have in two days. The sun was shining, the day was warm, and we were working high speed today. There is a lot to tell you about.

We found out yesterday that the permit inspection has been officially scheduled for Monday December 22. That means we have TEN WHOLE DAYS to finish the exterior of the dome. It's doable, but I don't think we'll be taking another day off until the 22nd, so wish us luck.

We were graced by visits from both Allison and Kat today. These two women are working every day to make sure we are well fed (and we eat a LOT), so lately they haven't had time to see the fruits of the project. It was great to have them up there.

The cob crew covered a lot of ground on the back of the dome, and Dennis and Viet did some more excellent rock work by the back door. Bert and Christine sculpted the front entry way and Luke installed the back door. It's gorgeous. It even smells good! No joke, you can smell it from 2 feet away.

The dome is about 19 feet high from the floor inside to the top of the last course. We brought up the skylight to try it out. The dome now holds heat. Yes, everyone, it is now a house!! We still have to seal the windows and doors, and install the skylight, and of course do the finish work, but the structure is DONE!! Well, probably - Bert and the bag crew (John and Ehrin) still reserve the right to add one more course tomorrow if they are feeling really nostalgic.

Yet another amazing part of the day was seeing Matty Gallup back in the dirt pits for his final performance. Singing operatas and other nonsense with his pit companion Ben Kramer, Matt pick mattoxed like a champ, as we hauled dirt to the top of the dome for what might have been the last time. Yes, we put on two more courses and these may be the last. Don't get too teary-eyed, we still have concrete to haul up there. And cob. And lime plaster. Oh, and a giant skylight. So don't think you've missed all the fun. Come on down to DM and join us - only 10 more work days left until the inspection!!!

Photos of the Day, December 11, 2008


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 9: Update

In our continuing series on and from the Lama Dome...  From Nicole Davis:

JohnEO and Ehrin put 2 new courses on today. The second course they ran was a single shot. That means they got all the way around the hole with a single bag for the first time in Lama Dome history. The hole is now only FIVE FEET ACROSS! We are down to medium bag, which goes a lot quicker than big bag. Maybe only ONE MORE DAY of bagging left, and then we all turn to cob.

In other news, the rock crew did a beautiful job on the wainscoat by the front entrance. Cob workers valiantly smeared wet cob with frozen fingers on to the dome, then warmed their fingers by the wood-burning stove installed recently inside the dome. We like the hot tea and hot chocolate brewed up inside what is quickly becoming a cozy room. All four windows are now in, the front door is on, and the back door is next. Stay tuned!

Approximately $1300 of the needed $10,000 has come in for dome expenses. Much of this is for interior work.  Please donate to the project.


Winter Term 2009 Registration Now Open

Only a true Diamond Mountaineer knows the glory that comes with a Winter term at Diamond Mountain University.  The weather gets cold, the classes get hot, and the debate ground feels more and more like a football game.  So how does one prepare for such a term?  As a good Gelukpa, I've made a nice list for all of you.
  1. decide that it's time to travel a spiritual path
  2. look at the 2008-2009 course catalog; choose your courses of interest
  3. check out the campus schedules to make sure your classes don't conflict
  4. register online
  5. bring mittens
That's all.


Lama Dome Dailies, Dec 9

With all the immediate interest in progress of the Lama Dome some folks up on the hill have offered to give daily updates to the world on the upward movement of the monumental earth bag dome.  And of all the relevant media outlets, they've chosen the Diamond Mountain Blog to carry the exclusive story.  The hope is that we will have daily images and perhaps even descriptions of the day's work, each day, until the last day of work on December 19th.

Today's images include some high-altitude tamping and the installation of the front door.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Lama Dome, Almost There

The crew up at the Lama Dome — the future 3-year retreat home for Geshe Michael and Lama Christie — is seeing their joyous effort pay off.  According to the latest images to make their way out of the remote location, serious progress is being made.  Cobbing of the outer walls is well underway, the windows are installed, and the opening at the top is now smaller than 8 feet.  With an inspection deadline of December 21, the largest earth bag dome in the world just may make the cut.

Still, there is lots of work to be done and helping hands are needed.  If you haven't had a chance to at least move one shovel, you're missing out.  One day, maybe soon, the dome will be complete and before then you want to get a piece of this karmic action.