28 July, 2005

Buddhist Nunnery in Vermont


China's Maoists destroyed Tibetan Buddhist relics, texts and buildings during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Yet, in the end, that destruction had a boomerang effect.

On July 28, 2005, I attended the consecration of a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery at Lincoln--a small town in rural Vermont, USA. The town is so small that you could miss it, as we did--we drove right past it. The general store, in the middle of the town, had a sign so quaint that we had to drive around several times before we found it. The houses, with sloping gabled roofs, were scattered amongst fields of summer wildflowers. Children's tricycles rested on the overgrown grass outside red, dilapidated barns.

The friend who drove me to the event was a young American woman who had experienced the effects of war first-hand: her husband, who she had been married to for eight years, was psychologically traumatized after being posted to Iraq. Their marriage had ended soon after his return home. It wasntt so much the loss of her husband as the loss of her best friend that hit her hard, she said. Nations at war pay dearly in terms of human trauma – something that never gets factored into the cost of war.

This awareness of war's vices accompanied us as we tried to find our way to the "Sunray Peace Village," where the consecration was taking place. Prayer flags and a small white stupa suddenly appeared in the middle of nowhere. Dozens of parked cars suggested that we had arrived at the right place. As we walked towards the incense smoke, we saw a gathering of about a hundred Americans outside a tent. "Oh, this is where all the hippies of the Sixties disappeared," my friend whispered light-heartedly. "I was wondering where they had all gone." Inside the tent sat several monks, with a Cherokee spiritual leader named Dhyani Ywahoo in the center.

The venerable Dhyani Ywahoo is a spiritual leader who descends from the Cherokees, one of the Native American tribes of North America. Started in 1969 by Dhyani Ywahoo, the Peace Village is a sangam of three traditions: Ningma, Kagyu, and the Ywahoo (Cherokee) lineage. It is not surprising that Tibetan Buddhism should be embraced by Native American practitioners – the similarities in cultural and shamanistic practices suggest that the two groups might well have drifted off into different continents at some prehistoric time but never quite lost their physical or spiritual resemblance. Both traditions emphasize peace and peaceful relations with the earth.

The entire congregation chanted Tibetan mantras for the ground blessing of the Vajra Dakini Nunnery. When completed, the nunnery will be the first Drikung nunnery in the West. Attending the ceremony were a group of Benedictine monks in black and white, who had also been invited for the event. "All spiritual traditions come from the same place," said one of them, beaming. In a country where the monastic tradition is almost dead, the monks seemed eager to find comradeship among the followers of another tradition in which monasticism is alive and thriving. The brothers were taking care of Indians of Mayan descent from Guatemala, who they had brought along to take part in the ritual.

Native Americans, like Tibetans, were almost decimated by colonizing powers that displaced, starved and robbed them of their land. But, as the annual gathering of Native American elders at the Peace Village testifies, peaceful traditions are hard to eradicate. The elders came from as far away as Honduras and El Salvador. At lunch, I talked to two "spirit guides" from the rain-forests of Latin America. Massacres of Native Indians in Latin America have taken place even in contemporary times, but they continue to practice their shamanistic traditions.

China’s Maoists destroyed Tibetan Buddhist relics, texts and buildings during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. The monastic tradition was thought to be feudal and corrupt, and had to be destroyed through all means. Monasteries were defaced and individuals were forced to give up their spiritual texts and artifacts, which were burnt before the Tibetan community. Yet, in the end, that destruction had a boomerang effect. Instead of dying out, the Tibetan tradition has continued to flourish globally in a way that nobody could have predicted in the 1950s. Perhaps, if the leaders of the Cultural Revolution had foreseen how those actions would lead to a vibrant resurgence of the tradition forty years later, in places as far away as North and South America, they would have left the monasteries alone.

Posted on: 2005-08-17 00:03:58 (Server Time)