More than 2,000 monks currently reside in exile at the Drepung Monastery in India after fleeing a life of suppression, torture and often death at the hands of communist China. To practice and preserve their culture, traditions and religion, their sacred leader, the Dalai Lama, and millions of Tibetans elect to live in exile.
In January, The Lighthouse ArtCenter in Tequesta welcomed eight monks from the monastery for the second time. The week-long stay gave the monks the opportunity to share their heritage and culture with the community through public yoga classes, peace pole painting, sand painting, a Tibetan culinary experience and their daily practice of chanting—a cultural tradition that is both spiritual and awe-inspiring.
Central to their visit was the creation of a sand mandala with the theme of world peace, selected by Cynthia Trone, director of education at the Lighthouse ArtCenter’s School of Art. The monks create the mandala—a Sanskrit word meaning “world in harmony”—with sand, grain by grain, while contemplating world peace, compassion, wisdom and wellness. Visitors witnessed the mandala creation daily. When completed, the mandala relates a moral story passed down through generations for all people—no matter their faith. It encourages people to show respect for their elders, and to love and live in harmony.
An exquisite piece of art, the innermost ring of the mandala depicts the four harmonious friends: dove, elephant, rabbit and monkey. Encircling these are various religions of the world and the universal peace symbol: Buddhism, Sikhism, Native American, Islam, Taoism, Jainism, Judaism, Baha’i, Christianity and Hinduism. Enclosing those are eight auspicious symbols: precious umbrella, treasure vase, joyful fish, lotus flower, white conch, endless knot, victory banner and wheel.
Monks create the world peace-themed mandala.
Following tradition, the mandala subsequently is dismantled in an elaborate Dissolution Ceremony, emphasizing the reality of impermanence in all aspects of life. The intention is to create awareness of our attachment and suffering, ultimately generating social healing. Following the Dissolution Ceremony at the Lighthouse ArtCenter, the monks led a procession to the Jupiter Lighthouse where the sacred sands of the mandala were used to bless the inlet waterways.
During construction of the mandala, Jupiter yoga instructor Kimberly DePasquale led a yoga class for both the monks and the public within feet of the sacred sands. DePasquale drew on the inner peace she experienced during a recent excursion to India and her first encounter with monks to guide her vision for leading a once-in-a-lifetime class.
“The monks’ message to us was that it all begins with one person to make a shift in peace, expanding from our hearts to our family, friends, community and the world,” DePasquale says. “As we came to our final pose, shavasana, again I glanced at the monks and felt at that moment this was my gift to them—to take a few extra moments to rest after all they had done on this sacred tour.”
The monks stayed with a host family—Keith and Bella Cini, their four children and two pets. A home of eight suddenly more than doubled to include the eight monks, plus their translator and driver. Amazingly, Keith Cini says it just worked.
“The kids all piled into our room for a week-long slumber party while the monks took their beds and the couch,” Keith Cini says. During mornings and evenings, the family spent time with the monks sharing stories, singing, listening to music and even playing basketball. Thirteen-year-old Leilani Cini spent hours conversing with one monk, Trim, who is teaching her the Buddhist ways, which has sparked her desire to travel.
Fulfilling their mission to bring awareness to the plight of Tibetans and stress the importance of interfaith, harmony, compassion and non-violence, the monks left Palm Beach for Alabama to continue their Sacred Art Tour. They have hopes of returning again to the Palm Beaches in 2017.
“Anyone who was lucky enough to sit with the monks while they chanted and while they worked on the mandala will know that there is a new level of love and clarity here,” Trone says. “I have seen the shift in people as they experience the kindness and purity of these Tibetan Buddhist monks.”