In 1505, Pope Julian the Second requested Michelangelo to create his magnificent tomb in St. Peter's Church. Michelangelo spent several months in the marble and stone quarries of the Carrara mountains to select the best possible blocks.
And then something happened because of which the Pope's tomb was postponed a quarter of a century. During his fourth month of exploration, Michelango found a unique mountain with the most fantastic rock formations, in an inspiring setting away from all traces of human hands. In his mind appeared an irresistible vision of an Orbis Pictus, a mystic world picture, which could become not only the greatest masterpiece of his career, but of all time. If he could only dedicate the rest of his life to it! Of course, such a tremendous undertaking was impossible without the help and financial contributions of his few Maecenases. Michelangelo request was unfortunately refused not only by the Pope and the Medicis, but by all those princes who wanted him to make rather their statues, tombs, chapels and churches.
Then came years of desperate material and spiritual struggle, and finally a deeply disappointed Michelangelo heartbrokenly gave up his greatest dream and resigned himself to the creation of masterpieces of lesser dimensions. The face of his statue of Moses, many years after, still expresses his own deep disappointment.
When I first read about the life of Michelangelo, about half a century ago, this intermezzo of his life became deeply engraved in my subconscious. During the last eight years I have been searching for a similar mountain to Michelangelo's mountain at Carrara, with similar rock formations and inspiring views, far away from anything man-made. Of course I was searching with a completely different purpose because I am not a sculptor like Michelangelo. I believe that a beautiful mountain is the most primordial and most universal source of inspiration on our planet. It is not pure coincidence, that the greatest revelations in the history of mankind were connected with holy mountains like the Himalayas, Mt. Sinai, Mt. Nebo, and Mt. Olympus. Patanjali, the founder of the Yogas, systematically trained his disciples to walk on the gentle slopes of the foothills of the Himalayas to maintain the right middle balance of the intensity of breathing and to draw inspiration from the mountains -- to extricate themselves from every man-made stimulus and commune with the purity and simplicity of nature.
The idea which gradually was crystallizing in my mind was to concentrate all the great teachings of mankind in texts, symbols, statues, drawings and all visual expressions which would harmoniously blend with the mountains. In view that there are less and less beautiful valleys and mountains untouched by human interference, it took me a much longer period of time than Michelangelo to finally discover such a perfect setting for my purpose. After eight years of searching, I was nearly ready to give up the idea when accidentally I came across a beautiful group of little hills and valleys on the top of a 3,500-foot plateau. It was called Rancho Mil Robles at Tierra del Sol, approximately sixty miles east of San Diego, owned by Commander Shaw of the U.S. Navy, Ret. Naturally, I acquired the ranch containing hundreds of beautiful rocks and oaks, with two springs and a creek. I immediately started to compress eight thousand years of wisdom into eighty acres. In one respect I was in a more favorable position than Michelangelo; having a small number of enthusiastic employees to help me, I didn't have to ask the Pope or the Medicis for their assistance. The basic quintessence of the work is nearing completion; of course, the details, additions and improvements may take many more years. But we know that perfection is an ideal toward which we may go closer and closer, even if we are never able to reach it.
This portfolio is just a skeletonic survey of the basic characteristics of Rancho Mil Robles (Thousand Oaks), which, due to its functional aspects, we transformed into the French form Mille Meditations (Thousand Meditations). We feel that this initial presentation (to which, additional improvements will progress, much more materials will be added) would not be complete without giving to the reader the reactions of the first visitors to Mille Meditations: reactions which prove that Mille Meditations means many different things to many different people.
The reaction of a Philosopher: "The most original and stupendous idea of Mille Meditations is the Pilgrim's Path. After reading and studying hundreds of volumes of abstract and contradictory books, I was amazed at the beautiful simplicity and astonishing efficiency of this idea: to learn the great teachings of the history of human thought by simply walking through a charming path of pilgrimage, over the gentle slopes of rolling valleys and hills, by reading and meditating over the wonderful texts and symbols on the seemingly endless variety of imposing, beautiful rocks."
The reaction of a Seeker: "The greatest of the many benefits I received from Mille Meditations is a workable philosophy of life. There is nothing more wonderful than discussing your personal problems with the great philosophers and applying this advice in your daily life. Mille Meditations solved for me my years of searching."
The reaction of a Psychoanalyst: "To me, the greatest point of Mille Meditations is its psychosomatic value. While the majestic panorama of Nature makes us forget our tensions in the city and fills us with refreshing peace, the great, beautiful teachings surrounding us give us inspiration and faith in the transcendental values of life."
The reaction of a Psychologist: "Besides all the benefits of my stay at Mille Meditations, the most important for me is what I am able to take home with me, what I can use continuously in my life to further my individual evolution. I speak mainly of the self-analysis system of Zarathustra, the weekly balance sheet of the "Individual Inventory," which I consider the most complete and most efficient system of psychology of all time."
The reaction of a College Professor: "The spontaneous, simple and automatic method of imparting knowledge in the form of self-education at Mille Meditations recalls to me the classic ideal of simultaneously and alternately training mind and body. The walk through the wonderful landscape never becomes monotonous in view of the constant alternation of fascinating texts, symbols, statues and constructions. The reading of and meditation on the great teachings of mankind is tremendously refreshed by the beautiful walks and panoramic views from the hundreds of benches distributed along the unique Pilgrim's Path."
The reaction of a School Teacher: "I really cannot imagine a better, more interesting or more efficient way to introduce great spiritual and philosophical ideas to youngsters than through a teacher's conducted tour along the Pilgrim's Path at Mille Meditations. All abstract ideas become intensively real as they are incarnated in the rocks, statues, symbols and different constructions, surrounded by the majesty of Nature. The impact of this spiritual and intellectual experience could easily be a vital turning point in their lives."
The reaction of a Civic Leader: "To me, the tremendous value of Mille Meditations is in the learning of Tolerance; in demonstrating that many different approaches and paths exist to the greatest Truths of Life and Universe, all with the same evidences and validity, proving that Tolerance is not a kind of logical and ethical conception, but a vital necessity both to society and in the life of the individual."
The reaction of a Minister: "Within one afternoon at Mille Meditations, I got a much clearer view of the similarities between the great religions than I achieved during a whole decade of reading on comparative studies of religions. The amazing similarities between the Cosmic Order of Zarathustra, the Wheel of Buddha, the Wheel of Yogas of Patanjali, and the Essene Communions, had an unforgettable effect on my whole outlook on my ministry."
The reaction of a Rabbi: "My reading of a dozen erudite and analytical works about the Dead Sea Scrolls never gave me the living impact I felt at the Summit of Enoch, the Holy of the Holies, and the rocks of the Ten Commandments and Moses. The practice of the Essene Communions at the Essene Sanctuary was the greatest spiritual experience of my life."
The reaction of a Buddhist: "In addition to the imposing dimension of Buddha's Wheel of Life and the awe-inspiring Sanctuary of Buddha, the walk around the perimeter (Samsara) of the Wheel and on the eight spokes (Noble Eightfold Path) toward the Center (Nirvana), in the midst of the spiritual sounds of the bells from India, gave me a much deeper feeling of the reality of the teachings of Buddha than anything I have experienced."
The reaction of a Yoga Teacher: "In spite of the articles I write and the lectures I give on Yoga, I never realized the existence of all the sixteen Yogas of Patanjali and their ultimate balance. From now on I will completely revise my theory and practice from my previously one-sided approach to a fuller and more complete system of all sixteen Yogas."
The reaction of an Executive: "Mille Meditations is for me the rediscovery of a lost paradise. After a distressing five days of sitting at my desk in the city, solving complicated problems with the continuous tension of making vital decisions, all under the stress of multiple responsibilities, my visits to Mille Meditations are recharging my depleted batteries. One tour through the wonderland of panoramic views, relaxing on the scattered benches while meditating on the rocks, playing twenty holes of the fascinating Toltec Ball Game, taking a refreshing Sumerian Bath and a siesta in the Floral Vapor Room, and I feel completely renewed and able to face another week of imminent stress."
The reaction of an Average Weekender: "I have made a habit of going out of town each weekend. Taking into consideration all the beautiful places I have visited, Mille Meditations, even without all the wonderful things added, in itself, with its fantastic rocks, hidden hills and valleys, breathtaking views and beautiful oaks, is one of the most wonderful places on earth."
The reaction of an Athlete: "I have played football, soccer, golf, croquet and basketball. I never imagined I would be able to play all five games together in the form of the Sacred Ball Game of the Toltecs, which, according to my judgment, based on twenty years of sports experience, is the most complete existing physical culture system of any country. In addition to the intellectual stimuli of learning the basic symbols of the Toltec culture, their names and meanings, their system of numbers and their concept of life and the universe, it is the best preventive sport to keep onself physically fit."
The reaction of a Reducer: "Not being a very spiritual person, and finding that off and on I have a nearly permanent weight problem, I found that, at least for me, the greatest value of Mille Meditations is the pound I lose each day I play the twenty-hole Toltec Ball Game and hike the one-and-a-half mile Pilgrim's Path. My regular visits there help me to control my weight in a very pleasant way."
These are fifteen different reactions from fifteen very different kinds of people. And, like any living organism, as Mille Meditations grows and develops in various directions, so will it attract more and more a variety of people, benefiting in different ways to be sure, but all under the far-reaching influence of eight thousand years of wisdom.
Edmond Bordeaux Szekely
Tierra del Sol, California