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Event Reportback: The World Peace and Compassion Tour

Sitting in the May morning sun, on the balcony of the Sophea Art Gallery and Tibetan Tea House in Simonstown, listening to the Venerable Thupstan Chhostak speak of peace and compassion, the concept seems strikingly simple: For peace in this world we need first to create harmony within our selves…

This, as Chhostak explains, can be achieved through bringing to ones conscious mind the attachments which lead to unloving thoughts, then making the choice to release them.

He assures me that meditating on Great Compassion and the Wisdom of Emptiness is the best way to achieve a light heart. I’m intoxicated with the gentle joy emanating from the sincere being in front of me, something tells me his words hold a great deal of truth, I listen.

He speaks of vain glory and greed, of generosity and compassion, the importance of meditation for being present in the moment and the loving wisdom of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Over the next five days I spend many hours at the tea house watching the six monks from the Rizong monastery in India as they chant, meditate and work together to create an exquisite work of art, the sand Mandala of Avalokiteshvara.

The monks journeyed to South Africa as part of the World Peace and Compassion Tour which was organised and funded by the Tibet Society of South Africa (TSSA), who spent more than a year coordinating and collaborating with Buddhist organisations such as the Lam Rim Tibetan Buddhist Centre to bring this blessing into fruition.

At the heart of the tour is the creation of three sand mandalas, an ancient art form that takes years of training to master. There are many types of mandalas each with their own blessings to confer and lessons to teach. The Mandala of Avalokiteshvara is constructed as a vehicle to generate compassion, heal the environment and assist in understanding the impermanence of reality.

The presence of the monks brings an unmistakable sense of serenity. Their focus and patience is inspiring. The room fills with the gentle purr of the metal funnels through which the sand is poured. The chak-purs (metal tools used to make thew Tibetan Sand Mandalas) vibrate continuously as millions of grains fall perfectly into place. There is no part of the mandala that is superfluous. Meaning is buried in each and every little mound of sand which is not actually sand at all but rather crystal from a river bed in Ladakh that has been meticulously ground into an incredibly fine powder and died with natural pigments.

The colours are spectacular.

Although the mandala is depicted on a flat surface, it is a representation of a three-dimensional palace in which the deity Avalokiteshvara and his spiritual entourage reside. A symbolic world of harmony where every object represents an aspect of wisdom and each deity, an archetype of a mindful state.

For Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama is the current emanation of the enlightened being Chenrezig (known in Sanskrit as Avalokiteshvara), a Bodhisattva whom decided to delay becoming a fully enlightened Buddha and rather live in compassionate spirit for the sake of all sentient beings.

As the week progresses, so does the influx of visitors. We watch as the spirit house takes shape, there is an air of anticipation and jubilation, I find myself smiling for no reason. Everyone seems to share the sentiment. When the day comes to a close, it is difficult to leave. At the venue for the evening chant I see many of the same faces, it’s clear I’m not the only one who is enthused by the presence of these enchanting monks.

Once the mandala is complete the traditional closing ceremony begins.

We spend hours gazing at the finished work while the monks chant and play instruments, calling forth the forces of goodness, as with the opening ceremony, to bless the environment.

The frantic snap of cameras comes as no surprise as everyone tries to capture the moment, before the ritual dissolution.

Our Western world knows little of non-attachment.

Once the mandala has been swept up I join the colourful procession down to the beach and watch as it is poured into the sea, carried away with each wave to bless the rest of the world.

The purpose of the tour was not only to raise awareness of the uniqueness of the Tibetan culture but also to honour His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 75th birthday on July 6th, as he works tirelessly in an attempt to deliver all beings from suffering, with his continuous message of compassion for all life forms and the potential for peace on earth.

The week has come to an end and I, as many others, have been deeply touched by this experience. The gratitude for those who made it possible is overwhelming and I vow, to support the TSSA by becoming a member, to take the wisdom shared by these modest monks to heart, and to live more compassionately.

Of the three mandalas created on South African soil, one remains fixed in the shrine room at the Lam Rim Tibetan Buddhist Centre in Johannesburg, a true blessing and most certainly worth a visit.

By Kama Murray

Photographs By Bruce Horak (brucehorak@hotmail.com; 074 124 6435)

For more information on the Tibet Society visit www.tibet.org.za


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