Sunday, April 29, 2012

X is for Xizang

Xizang |ˈ sh ēˈdzä ng |
Chinese name for Tibet .

I remember when I first got it into my head that I wanted to visit Tibet. I was monitoring a class of children as they took annual standardized tests, and I was in a classroom not my own. It was downstairs in the fifth grade wing, in a room reserved for Geography and Social Studies. Across from the teacher's desk where I sat, was a map of Asia.
As I looked at the map I began thinking about Tibet- which has been called the birthplace of all things.

I mused about the Dalai Lama and monks/nuns garbed in saffron robes. I pondered about meditation and chanting and Buddhism and what is implied by being called the birthplace of all things. I considered the Chinese occupation and deaths of over 200K Tibetan people about or before 1950. I wondered how long the trek out of Tibet took the people who were excommunicated, and the Indian people who gave them a new place to reside. I thought about folks who were told that Buddhism was no longer an option.
I daydreamed about yaks and sherpas and strings of prayer flags.

 The prayer flags are left to blow in the breeze even when they become shredded. 
 Then they transform among the elements. 

Perhaps less than a month later, a group of Tibetan monks came to our school. The monks lived in a monastery in India, and had grown up there since infancy. I cannot remember why they were specifically drawn to being at our school...

For whatever reason, they came to our middle school and were giving us a gift of a sand mandala and opening/closing chanting performances. I was blessed to be asked to come to the auditorium and help supervise the students. (I felt totally loved that day. I was not scheduled to take my students to the event, but my boss called me down at the last minute.)

I arrived as they walked out into the cement floor and sat down, lined up at the front of the open area- just in front of the stage. The monks did not want to be up, they wanted to be on the same level as we all ARE.

The men were all between 19 and 60-something. They were dressed in fine robes of the highest quality fabrics and wore these majestic headdresses that looked like horse mane mohawks made of garnet flora/plumage.

One by one the men started out with an awe-inspiring (because it literally makes you inspire... take abruptly deep breaths in, to merely watch and hear this!) cyclic chanting.
I swear that they can be heard on the CD/soundtrack for Heaven.
Their voices, being added one by one, melted and layered smoothly with each another's seamlessly. It looked as if they did not take breaths at all. If you have not seen or heard cyclic chanting, it is impressive at the least.
I was so moved, I decided to take a seat in the rear of the auditorium, where, I am convinced, the reverb and acoustics were best anyway.

 The flag's colors represent the Traditional Chinese Elements.  
 White/Metal. Blue/Water. Yellow/Earth. Green/Wood. Red/Fire. 

I in-visioned monks, many many years ago, chanting on the edges of sky temples in the Himalayas sending vocal-waves of prayer up and out... and the holy sound carrying on forever.

The power of vibrations made by their voices opens one up inside.
As I listened, I felt my heart burst open and the instantaneous connection of myself with the monks, the students and all living beings on the planet. (Like some Kundalini bursting alive event!) The opening chant lasted for over an hour. It threw me into reverie about the movie The Dark Crystal. I remembered the scene with the “Mystics” chanting- which sounded like these gentle men before me.
{Oh Jim Henson, you are greatly missed!}

As a kid, I was drawn to the Buddhist ways. (That was the platform for my argument for being a vegetarian when I was a little girl, Buddhists, and Hindus too... Not that it made my family accept the fact that I didn't want to eat meat. But that is another story for another day, I promise.)

When the Tibetan monks stopped the opening blessing chant there was a silence in the building like none other. We were all pin-drop quiet in the auditorium, and you could see how these children were effected as deeply as we adults were, it was beautiful!

 It was similar to this, but they had 3 foot long tubes used to tap the sand into the less-specicified outline/area than shown in this photo here. 
 Sitting on the floor, they sand-painted directly on the cement. 

A few deep breaths later, we drew closer to watch them create a sand mandala.
If you are not familiar with this art form, let me fill you in:
A sand mandala is a moving meditation, each colorful sand grain is laid out with intention as per where it is to go. An ornate pattern relating to a prayer or honoring a sutra is painted before your very eyes. Then after many labored hours, the sand is blown away by the wind, reflecting the impermanence of everything- both good and bad.

Being a photo/art teacher, I had a camera with me. I took some snaps of the monks at work (NOT using my flash though,) making the mandala, which turned out dark and grainy since the lights were very low. I printed one specific photo from that day's events to show my friends, which I did.

I do not know what happened to that film, or the photo. As a very organized woman, I keep my film strips and proof sheets ALL in ringed binders, dated and in chronological order.
But that roll of film and proofs and single print is gone.

 Talk about non-attachment and impermanence, huh? 

I may not have the pictures, but I will forever have that wonderful experience!


  1. Maybe one day you'll get to go to Tibet...?

    1. Yes indeedy I will AL... Tibet is calling me.


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