Rocky Mountain Higher Power

The Rocky Mountain village of Crestone, Colorado, is home to an astonishing array of spiritual centers, reports Peter Manseau in Killing the Buddha. Besides the imposing Haidakhandi Universal Ashram at the foot of Kit Carson Mountain, Crestone’s unorthodox religious landscape also includes a Carmelite Monastery, a 40-foot-tall Tibetan stupa, the Karma Thegsum Tashi Gomang Center, the Dragon Mountain Zen Center, the Sri Aurobindo Learning Center, the Yeshe Khorlo Bhutanese Retreat Center, and a quasi-Shinto group called Shinji Shumeikai.

“In the past 20 or so years, the valley surrounding this boom-then-bust mining town has come to read like a textbook on religious diversity with a few pages missing,” Manseau writes. Muslims and Jews have no spiritual home here, for instance, but Shirley Maclaine has considered building a “metaphysical fitness center” in town and a group of people who call themselves Arcturians want to build a 40-story pink pyramid to help their mother ship locate them.

Sparked by a local businessman’s wife, whose affinity for Native American spirituality reportedly arose from a single reading of The Last of the Mohicans, Crestone’s remarkable religious diversity has somehow become “a unique landmark in America’s spiritual landscape,” Manseau writes. But for all its apparent exoticism, he notes, the Crestone spiritual environment is distinguished less by its unorthodoxy than by its work ethic. “For better and worse, the various traditions assembled here now serve conspicuously as pieces of a larger religious structure,” he explains. “Yes, these pieces have been forced together somewhat unnaturally, often at the expense of their particularity. But it’s undeniable that together they are being made into a new whole, not through spirit alone, as is often assumed of religious change, but through human effort, through work.”

–Craig Cox
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