Laguna Receives Monks’ Blessings

Monks completed a sand mandala last year that transfixed audiences. Photo by Ted Reckas

Seven Tibetan monks skilled in the sacred art of sand mandala painting as well as butter sculpture, costumed dance and chanting are making a second annual sojourn to Laguna Beach next week.

The monks, who have studied the ceremonial arts for up to 10 years at the Gaden Jangtse monastery founded in 1413 in South India, have also traveled the more than 8,000 miles to Laguna Beach to deliver a gentle but urgent reminder, said one of the event’s organizers.

“These guys just go by their instincts,” said Julien Kheyrol, who is organizing the event with Tenpa Dorjee, owner of Tibet Handicrafts on Forest Avenue.  “They pick places for their spiritual potential but also because the people here need to be reminded.”

And of what do the residents of Laguna Beach need their memories tweaked?  Of the spirituality of the place, of its godly-potential, said Kheyrol.  Laguna, it turns out, has been selected by the monks not only because of a deep sense of innate spirituality but because they believe the people who chose to live here also embody a spiritual nature of acceptance, respect, compassion and kindness toward other people, cultures and backgrounds.

“That combo brings more love,” said Kheyrol.  “That’s the ultimate, and the people here then have the potential to spread that love to other places.”

Why else would men with shaved heads and wearing weird maroon robes that have nothing to do with Western culture, not to mention unwieldy garb for life in a beach town, come here to perform mysterious, silent ceremonies that include blowing sand out of a skinny tube into fascinating floral shapes and patterns while meditating to holy sounds and undecipherable mantras?

I guess we’re just lucky.

When last year’s group of monks, who came from the Drepung Loseling monastery, displayed their sand-mandala painting skills, word spread.  “The line was out the door; it was like a holy pilgrimage,” said psychologist and local resident Michele McCormick, who dropped the first grain of sand for the idea after a trip to India last year and a stop to shop and, ultimately, discuss plans at Dorjee’s store.

McCormick said people who saw the monks’ unwavering focus on their craft were spellbound.  “They fell into a meditative state just watching it,” she said.

The monks will begin creating this year’s unique Mandala of Chenrezig, dedicated to the Buddha of Compassion, starting at 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 21, with a ceremony asking permission of local spirits and blessing the grounds at the Neighborhood Congregational Church, 340 St. Ann’s Drive.  Geshe Tenzin Sherab will explain the significance of the sand mandala and, new to this year’s ceremony, the butter sculpture.

A butter sculpture by the monks of Gaden Jangtse monastery. Photo courtesy of the Pacific Asia Museum

The colorful butter sculpture is also an age-old ritual that takes years to perfect as a ceremonial offering.  Butter was chosen, explained Dorjee, because it was a common household product, can be carved when frozen and will stay intact at room temperatures indefinitely.

Also new this year will be a masked sacred dance and chanting performance given by the monks at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, at the church.

The meticulous Buddhist mandala process, using hand-dyed sand blown through a narrow metal funnel called a chakpur, will continue everyday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Sunday, Sept. 25, in NCC’s sanctuary.  The mandala will be completed during Sunday’s church service at 10 a.m. and then brushed into a pile, distributed to people as mementos with the remainder swept into a bucket at noon and taken to St. Ann’s beach where it will be sent out to sea with a ceremonial blessing.

Besides the message of compassion and kindness that leads to love, the dissolution ceremony is also symbolic of the Buddhist teaching of detachment.  “In order to be free, you need to let all intentions go,” Kheyrol explained.  “People are so attached to things, ideas, beliefs, each other.  If you hold onto an idea like wanting peace in the world, you need to free yourself and that idea, or else you’re chocking peace.

“If you plant a seed and then dig down in the dirt everyday to check on it, you’re not allowing the universe to let the spontaneous happen,” Kheyrol continued.  “If you come from a fearful place, the spontaneous can’t happen.  If you come from a loving place, then freedom happens.  It’s a tricky thing.”

Other special events during the monks’ five-day exhibition at NCC include a discussion of the sand mandala by Tenzin Thokme at 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, and a Tibetan arts and crafts bizarre before and after the 10 a.m. church service on Sunday, Sept. 25.

After the mandala dissolution ceremony on Sunday, a traditional Tibetan dinner completely prepared by the monks will be served at 7 p.m. in Bridge Hall at NCC.

Before leaving for another sanctified place in Arizona, the monks will serve dinner to homeless people staying at the overnight shelter on Laguna Canyon Road.  While here in Southern California, the monks have also visited San Diego and Pasadena as part of their fund-raising efforts for their monastery.

For more information, contact Pam Wicks at (949) 494-8061×12 or Tenpa Dorjee at (714) 342-7998.


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