By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Northborough – The First Parish Church Unitarian Universalist of Northborough, always a busy place, hosted a special group of visitors Nov. 15 to 20 – seven Tibetan Buddhist monks from Gaden Jhamtse, South India. The church's minister, the Rev. Dr. Judith E. Wright, said the monks visit was arranged at the suggestion of parishioner Jeff Bailey, who runs a meditation group at the church.
“[The monks] tour the world, spreading their message of peace and harmony,” she explained. “They never really know ahead of time where they will be going next. They just trust that it will all work out.”
She added, “While they were here, they stayed in our parish hall, sleeping on yoga mats. The parishioners brought them fresh, home-cooked meals throughout the week. For all of us, it has been a special opportunity, both spiritually and culturally.”
During their visit, the monks created a sand painting called a mandala in front of the church's altar. In Buddhist tradition, the mandala represents the sacred mansion of a deity. Each corner of the mandala's design represents a “gateway” to different philosophies that the deity represents.
While the monks were creating the mandala, they sat cross-legged on the floor for hours; silent and focused in an intense form of meditation. The artwork is formed by using special metal rod instruments called chak-purs to place colored sands into layers onto a large surface.
But just as carefully as the mandala was created, it was also ritualistically dismantled Nov. 20.
Geshe Losang Tenzin, the head monk, explained to the parishioners who attended the ceremony that the premise behind dismantling the mandala was that “everything is impermanent.” (Geshe literally means “spiritual friend.” It is the highest academic degree that Tibetan Buddhist monks can achieve.)
“Don's attach too much to anything or anyone,” he added. “Everything is temporary.”
Throughout the nearly half-hour ceremony, the monks chanted, sang and played instruments as they carefully swept the colored sand into a pile. Traditionally, after a mandala is dismantled, it is released into a body of water. But for this ceremony, each member of the audience was invited to come to the front of the church and receive a small bag of the sand. Tenzin said the parishioners could then spread it around their homes as a gesture of healing and peace.
Larry Bovaird, a member of the First Parish, said he felt the ceremony had been “tremendous.”
“I don's even know if I can find words to describe it,” he said “It warmed me to the bones.”
Another parishioner, Barbara Robey, said she felt the whole week had been a “wonderful experience.”
“I actually got to spend some time with the monks during the week,” she said. “It was so great to get to know them on a personal level. They are so kind and always smiling, so full of peace.”
The monks also spent a week in Shrewsbury where they participated in the Health and Wellness Program sponsored by Veterans, Inc.
To learn more about the monks, go to http://www.tsawamonksusa.com.
Here is a video of the monks visit to Shrewsbury.
(Northborough photos/Bonnie Adams. Shrewsbury photo/video/Sue Wambolt.)