Cushok Rinpoche, 106, who introduced the author to earth treasure vases, with his grandson, courtesy of Cynthia Jurs.
Cushok Rinpoche, 106, who introduced the author to earth treasure vases, with his grandson, courtesy of Cynthia Jurs.

In 1990, I made a pilgrimage in Nepal to meet Cushok Mangtong, the Charok Rinpoche, a 106-year-old lama who lived in a mountain cave 15,000 feet above sea level. As my companions and I trekked over many days to his retreat, I decided to talk to him about what was happening to the earth, and ask him his advice about a world that was rapidly becoming dangerously poisoned.

After several weeks with Rinpoche, the day to ask finally came. Lama had never been away from the mountains and valleys of that region of Nepal and knew nothing of the modern world. But he was very curious. I talked about radioactive waste, with its 240,000-year life span before decaying into a “safe” level of radiation. I talked about how humans have become sick with cancers and other disease, and how we didn’t know what to do. He asked if there were people where we lived who were dedicating themselves to practicing for the benefit of others and said that even just one person practicing deeply will bring many blessings to the whole area.

Then he spoke of the earth treasure vases. Following a tradition that has been carried on for centuries on the Tibetan plateau, earthen vessels are made and filled with life-enhancing substances and then consecrated and buried in order to protect and heal the area around them. He told us that we should by all means get some and put them in many places. He told us to go next to Thangboche Monastery and ask the abbot there to make some for us.

“How can an earthen vase in the ground do anything to protect us against the kind of severe damage being done to the earth nowadays?” I wondered. But full of respect and willing to try anything, we set out for Thangboche.

The abbot offered to make the earth vases, and showed us some extraordinary relics he had saved—powerful medicines—to place inside the vases. Because of airport customs, it was better for them not to be filled and sealed in Nepal. Instead, they would mix the relics (which consisted of the crematory remains of great lamas) directly into the clay as they made the eight-inch-high pots, then we would fill and seal them ourselves back home. I asked if there was a special practice we needed to do accomplish this. “No, don’t worry about that,” he said. “We will consecrate them here. Just put them in the ground. They’ll do the work.”

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