How Earth Sanctuary got started
By Chuck Pettis
Earth Sanctuary was born out of a blessing, an intention, and an insight.
I experienced the blessing while on retreat in the Spring of 1999. I was staying at the Sakya Monastery, located eight kilometers from Darjeeling, in Northern India. One day, I learned through an internet café that an investment of mine had ripened magnificently. This financial blessing was of a magnitude that I was able in turn to share it with others in a significant way.
In the inside-out logic of synchronicity, I realized that I was sitting in the middle of the solution to the question of how to pass on this blessing. On the back of the brochure for the retreat I was attending, H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya (Rinpoche), Head Lama of Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in Seattle, explained that his monastery in Seattle needed a retreat center. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, for a religious community to be complete, it needs a retreat center as well as a monastery. The monastery maintains and preserves the teaching of the Buddha through focusing on instruction and teaching. A retreat center provides individuals with the opportunity to apply what they have learned in a quiet setting that is free of distractions. It is a place for intensive and focused meditation practice.
This then became my intention, to help complete Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in Seattle by gifting it with a retreat center. Along with that intention went a deeper hope, that at least one person would reach enlightenment at this retreat center. This seemed like a logical outgrowth of the Tibetan Buddhist "Lamdre" practice that had brought me to Darjeeling, and which had been the focus of my retreat. The Lamdre teachings (also called "The Path and Its Fruit") are presented as a complete path to enlightenment-a remedy for suffering and unhappiness. They have been passed orally through a Lama lineage for over 1,000 years, and I felt grateful to Rinpoche to be sharing them with me and my fellow retreatants.
The decision to name the retreat land "Earth Sanctuary" and to make it a nature reserve grew out of another teaching that I had received years earlier from Rinpoche. On that occasion, following a Fire Puja ceremony blessing a sacred space that I had built, Rinpoche told me that many insects had suffered and been harmed during the construction. I realized that whatever I created in the future needed to be not only a sacred space--but also a space for sacred ecology, for the whole web of life. In this deepening of my understanding of Bodhicitta, I was called to work towards improving the welfare of all sentient beings (be they little or big!). Years later, as a result of this insight, I vowed to make the Sakya Monastery retreat land also a nature reserve dedicated to supporting as many species of life as possible. The presence of life on the 72 acres of Earth Sanctuary is vast; there are more beings at Earth Sanctuary than people on the planet!
I have been privileged to create a place of healing for nature and human consciousness through the abundance that came from the blessing, the intention to create a retreat center, and the insight of serving all sentient beings. It has been my great joy to do so.