Tibetan Monks Visit Fishers Island

Each summer, St. John’s Episcopal Church sponsors a theological book group on the island. This year, the group read Thich Naht Hanh’s book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, focusing on the similarities and spiritual practice within Christianity and Buddhism. The Rev. Michael Spencer, rector of St. John’s, has worked with Tibetan monks for the past fifteen years and invited seven monks and their translator to visit Fishers Island this past July as part of an ongoing commitment to deepen spirituality through openness and engagement with other religious traditions and perspectives. The Community Center generously opened up space to construct a sand mandala, multi-phonic chanting, and display of Tibetan art.

On a tour from Drepung Gomang Monastery in southern India, the monks have been traveling throughout the country since January 2012, sharing the distinctive art and culture of Tibet. The tour will end this December.

Drepung Monastery was founded in 1416 near Lhasa, Tibet. In 1959, before the invasion of Communist China, the Drepung Monastery has more than 10,000 monks. Only about 100 monks managed to escape with the Dalai Lama when he fled Tibet in 1959. They eventually settled in southern India where they rebuilt the Drepung Gomang Monastery. There are nearly 2000 monks living at this monastery today. About every two years, the monastery sends a group of monks out on tour to raise funds to support, feed, and care for the monks at the monastery.

While on the island, the monks shared their distinctive multi-phonic chanting with a packed crowd at the community center, spoke about Buddhism with the St. John’s book group, and shared some meals with the community. However, the highlight of the visit was the construction of a small sand mandala at the Community Center. The mandala is an ancient form of meditative art in Tibetan Buddhism. The creation of a sand painting is believed to affect purification and healing. Typically, a larger, more elaborate mandala is created by 4-5 monks over the course of one week. The mandala being created during this visit was a smaller version constructed over the course of one day. Many visitors came through the community center to see the mandala, including children from IPP who were encouraged to practice with chukprahs, used to drop tiny grains of sand. On the last day of the visit, the monks gathered with members of the community to dismantle the mandala. To the western mind, this seems illogical – why destroy something beautiful that has taken such time and effort? For Buddhism, this dismantling underscores the central belief that all life is impermanent, beauty does not last forever. Walking in procession, the monks led the gathered group down to the ferry dock where the sand was poured into the water, dispersing the energy of compassion and healing.

The True Meaning of Life:
We are visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, Something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.
~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama.


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