Haddonfield Meeting in New Jersey recently hosted a group of seven Buddhist monks visiting from their monastery in the Karnataka state of India. They came to make a mandala for us, hold prayer sessions, and give a concert.
My adventure began when I walked into the meetinghouse to act as a “Friendly Presence.” Four monks, clad in maroon robes, were seated around a large square board that had the outlines of the “Green Tara Mandala.” They slowly filled it in by dripping colored sands through long conical silver dispensers, tapping gently to release the color. There was quiet conversation, but when I sat down I heard them say “señora,” and we went into a beautiful period of silent worship.
The purpose of their visit was threefold. Fundraising was one: for a year, this group of seven Tibetan monks go begging around the United States to gather funds for their monastery. There were wonderful bright things for sale, including brocades turned into useful holders, and metal bowls producing a deep resonance when gently rubbed round and round with a wooden peg.
They also came to educate the world know what had happened to their people. The father of the young handsome Tibetan selling their materials had been the Dalai Lama’s bodyguard, and in 1959 had accompanied “His Holiness” over the Himalayas into Nepal. They had been disguised in street clothes and trudged through the snow under cover of darkness. If seen by the Chinese they would have been shot; many of their companions were killed. The oldest monk of our group had left Tibet as a thirteen year old in 1954. After the journey of just under a month, his “legs were like sticks.” There were things about his journey which were too painful to tell. Nepal welcomed them and eventually they made their way down to the Karnataka state of India. The new monastery started by the 200 survivors now has 2,000 monks.
Most of all, the monks wanted to spread peace and to let us know that our life is finite. The gorgeous mandala they created was sliced with a knife from the middle to the edge. “Rip, rip, rip, rip.” Life ends; beauty dies; everything’s gone now: bodhi svaha.
There was a powerful message of peace when the mandala was finally destroyed. I felt a loosening of tightness as they prayed. “Ohhm”—an inch of green leaves and sunlight appeared in the top of my skull. “Ohhm”—the light invaded further down into the darkness. “Ohhm”—My gosh, if they go on praying, only the least little shadow of gray will remain. “Ohhm”—I’m free. Trees, flowers, blue skies fill my head with lightness.
When it was over, we sent the sands of the mandala back to the sea. The monks, clad in golden ochre with tall cockade hats, walked down to the waters of nearby Cooper Creek. They stood a the little bridge, half hidden by trees, and prayed their powerful prayers and the sands of the mandala went down into the waters. The waters washed out to the sea: a message of peace going out to the world.