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And you thought Joan Zen was just a clever band name.

When the Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhists, eventually makes his way to Arlee to bless the Ewam Magadha Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, Deborah and Jason Hicks want Bitterrooters to be involved.

The Hicks, who live in Corvallis, are the musical brains behind one of the area's most successful and popular local bands, the Joan Zen Acoustic Duo, and Deborah - a Buddhist of 15 years - thinks there are some parallels between the faith and the Bitterroot lifestyle that might just surprise some folks.

"I think living in the Bitterroot, we all are drawn to renunciation to some extent," Hicks said. "That's why we move there, so we can give up the TVs and the chatter and the LA hairdos and get to what's really important: clean water, clean air, good friends and simple life."

About four years ago, Hicks was invited to perform at Ewam's Peace Festival - organized at the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas - where she enjoyed meeting the people of the Buddhist meditation center.

Invited back in following years as well, Hicks began to feel a connection to the place and began attending meditations and taking teachings from the center's spiritual leader Tulku Sang-ngang Rinpoche, the same man who extended an invitation to the Dalai Lama to visit the Garden.

It was around that time, that Hicks started to realize the depth of the project.

"I just became completely set on fire for what a huge, immense, amazing and significant project it is for not just the people of Arlee, but the whole state of Montana and the western United States," she said. "It's a monument to peace where we have so many monuments to war."

Since then, the Hicks have been putting 20-30 hours a week into helping the center prepare for the visit, which is expected to take place in late 2011, but hasn't yet been formally scheduled.

"Jason and I are doing all their media stuff," she said. "DVDs and print media, and of course playing music at every fundraiser."

So far, they've played at fundraisers in Whitefish, Bozeman, Sun Valley, Idaho, and even as far away as Los Angeles.

On Thursday evening, the Hicks will help to bring the spirit of the project to Hamilton with a fundraising event at the River Rising Bakery and Deli aimed at raising local awareness of the endeavor.

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a presentation from Dr. Georgia Milan, coordinator of the Dalai Lama's visit, who will show some images from the creation of the Garden and talk about its significance.

The presentation will be followed by a live performance by the Joan Zen Acoustic Duo and silent and live auction featuring both locally donated items as well as imported Tibetan and Nepalese goods.

In attendance will be Ewam's resident monk and nun.

"People will be able to feel the vibration of what a monk and a nun bring to this area," Hicks said.

For Diana Syester of Stevensville, an organizer of the Hamilton event, the fundraiser is an opportunity for Bitterrooters to learn more about the project as well as how they can get involved.

"This event really is an opportunity for people to hear what the whole Garden project is about and to help understand what the meaning of it is on a greater level and the significance of creating something like this in Montana," Syester said.

"People can feel that they have a way to participate. Whether they can actually make it to a workshop and help create statues or work in the garden, there will be lots of fun ways to participate in the creation of this."

The event begins at 6 p.m. and runs through 9 p.m. Food will be provided by River Rising. There is a suggested donation of $10 for those wishing to attend.

River Rising is located at 337 W. Main St. in Hamilton.

 

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