Happiness - Breaking the Monks' Code
- Created on Thursday, 21 June 2012 23:06
- Written by Maria Tadd
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What if your only goal in life was to help others and make the world a kinder, gentler place? You had no desire for material things and if you lost all of your possessions, you would still be happy. In part, this is the life of Tibetan monks. They take a vow of poverty and through prayer and chanting they spread love, joy, and compassion across the universe.
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life.”
― H.H., the XIVth Dalai Lama
Some of you may have had the privilege and honor to watch a group of Tibetan monks create and later destroy an absolutely spectacular Medicine Buddha mandala at the Unity Peace Church in Chapel Hill. The labor that went into creating the mandala was remarkable and its destruction took just a few minutes ― symbolizing the impermanence of life.
If you haven’t had an opportunity to witness the creation of such a sacred piece of art, I encourage you to participate next year, as it is anticipated that the monks will be coming back to Chapel Hill. I assure you, it will be an experience you won’t forget.
Basking in the Presence of the Monks
A serendipitous encounter with my neighbor’s mother, Nancy, ended up being my entrée to experiencing the peace, love and compassion of 8 monks from the Deprung Gomang Monastery in southern India. If Nancy hadn’t stopped me while driving up my road to ask me what kind of dog Frodo is, I probably wouldn’t have even known that the monks were in town. Without going into details, I quickly got involved. I filled the last volunteer position and got to spend a fair amount of time with the monks. Three of them including Geshe Tsondu, the senior monk and their driver spent a night at my house, a time I will treasure. Geshe Tsondu and I had some great conversations as we strolled through my neighborhood. We talked about the plight of Tibetans still living in Tibet, the lives of Tibetan refugees living in India, why China is so interested in occupying Tibet, how helping others is so important and is the true path to happiness, the differences between the brutality of the Chinese government vs. the peace-loving, compassionate Tibetans, and the reverence for all life.
The Chinese Occupation
The Chinese are interested in Tibet for the following reasons: They have some of the highest mountains which are ideal for launching missiles, they have water (a resource that is lacking in vast regions of China, particularly in the north where it is arid), and there is an abundance of minerals that have never been mined. Over the years, the Chinese have tried to annihilate a culture that is so very unique and rich in many traditions. Many thousands of Tibetans are living as refugees in Nepal and India while others now are sadly trapped in their homeland as the borders have been totally sealed off by the Chinese.
The Medicine Buddha Mandala
This mandala, known as the medicine Buddha mandala, is one of the most intricate and exquisite mandalas. The mandala is made by 3-6 monks who sit on the floor bent over in a lotus position and work tirelessly for hours at a time. Each morning and evening there is an opening and closing ceremony. Various chants, prayers and blessings are said, sending healing energy to the world, to all sentient beings and to the universe. Using a ruler and a compass the “blueprint” is drawn followed by the laborious task of creating stunning images by rubbing two metal tubes together. (Originally the tubes were made from animal horns.) Depending on how vigorously the tubes are rubbed either a tiny trickle or a gentle “stream” of sand falls in just the right place resulting in a three dimensional image.
The mandala is repleat with symbolism and "stories". Eight is an important number in Tibetan Buddhism and thus one will find many eights and multiples of eight throughout the mandala. There eight sections in the middle, eight auspicious symbols (a conch shell, a lotus, a wheel, a parasol, an endless knot, a pair of golden fishes, a banner proclaiming victory and a treasure vase. To learn more about the meaning of these symbols visit: http://www.exoticindiaart.com/article/symbols/), 64 lotus petals and on the outer rim there are 128 symbols.
When the monks work on the mandala they seem to be happy, joking with one another, not taking things too seriously. On the final day of the creation of the mandala, a fly had rearranged some of the sand ― the mandala was no longer perfect. Sherub, one of the monks, was a bit distressed but Rapgyal, another monk, just laughed it off and said, “We are destroying it tomorrow so it really doesn’t matter.” And in reality, only someone who had inspected the mandala carefully would have noticed the disturbance.
A Lesson In Impermanence
The deconstruction ceremony was very moving. First there was chanting and prayers. Then a sample of sand was taken from 4 parts of the mandala and placed in a vessel. Next, Geshe Tsondu drew eight lines using a dorge, dividing the mandala like a pizza. Then he went back to the first line and used a brush to create a greater disturbance. Afterwards, he and Sherub brushed the sand into the middle and two monks put the sand into little plastic bags that was distributed to those in attendance. More sand was placed in the vessel. We followed the monks to the creek where there was more chanting and blessings and the sand was ceremoniously placed into the creek and returned to the earth.
"One day old and dear friends will separate and goods and riches obtained by great effort will be left behind. Consciousness, a guest of the body, this temporary dwelling, will depart. From this moment on, to renounce all attachments to this life is a practice of the bodhisattva."
― H.H., the XIVth Dalai Lama
So if true happiness comes from helping others, then I wonder what our world would be like if every man, woman and child vowed to help just one person or other sentient being in need ― a child, an elder, a single mom, a homeless man, a puppy. . .? How would this change the consciousness of the planet? And how would these collective acts of kindness change the world?