Each year The Santa Barbara Summit for Tibet organizes and hosts a whole week dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture through art, lectures and meditation. Their mission is to
“…Increase awareness in our city of the cultural, philosophical and spiritual richness an alliance between Tibetan exiles and local citizens would generate.”
Last Monday marked the 55th Anniversary of the Tibetan uprising as well as the beginning of Tibet Week here in Santa Barbara, CA. Over the course of the week monks from The Drepung Loseling Monastery worked in a state of focused meditation to construct an outstandingly intricate and beautiful Amatayus sand mandala while sharing their wisdom and stories with our community.
As part of the ritual opening ceremony before beginning work on the mandala, the monks welcomed in blessings and cleared the space with powerful multiphonic singing and chanting. There are many different types of sand mandalas, but this one in particular is created for the purpose of radiating compassion and environmental healing. As the sunset backlit the stained glass sending cascades of multicolored light spilling across the floor, the acoustic hall of the Unitarian Society reverberated from end to end with the blissful tones of their voices and sacred instruments. Here in the quaint chambers of this sanctuary the Santa Barbara community bathed in the vibrations of divinity brought by the Loseling monks. Next, was a performance of the Black Hat Dance that is sometimes also referred to as The Cham Dance. Motivated by love and compassion the performers enact this ritual dance by symbolically presenting offerings to the gods and bringing blessings to the audience. It is believed in some circles that this dance originated from visions of tantric deities that presented themselves during invocation rituals.
Although the beauty of these performances and the aesthetic of the mandala was beautiful I sensed something deeper taking place over the course of the week. The ritual ceremonies and mandala creation provided a container for the community to explore, share wisdom and connect to the creative energies selflessly provided by the monks and their hosts. Locals I encountered during the build would often be standing in awe of the process while others took time to ask the monks inquisitive questions to deepen their understanding of what was taking place. I believe having ritual within our communities is something very important that Western culture has lost. Sure, we gather around to watch football games and entertainment events, but these passive engagements only pale in comparison to the deep spiritual ritual and creativity I witnessed last week. The experience sharpened my own philosophies and opened new internal heights for me to explore while providing an opportunity to connect more intimately with those in my own community.
Since 2011 there have been over 125 self-immolations in Tibet. This is possibly one of the most dire forms of protest imaginable as native Tibetans are willing to ignite themselves as a cry of help from the oppressive occupation of their homeland. The Tibetan people have been fighting back and struggling against the Chinese government since the beginning of their occupation of Tibet in 1950. Through the work of many international Tibet groups, the cries of the Tibetan people have not gone unheard. With more states raising human rights concerns than ever before the Chinese were called to make a response about their track record of human rights violations last year at the United Nations in Geneva in a process called The Universal Periodic Review. I urge any readers who feel inspired to find petitions or even write government representatives to work together in creating waves of change that can be carried by our own political system. These instances shine a light of hope for their resistance but with the support of a global community we can accomplish so much more.
As with all processes in the cosmos, our time with the monks drew near to passing. In a grand gesture of impermanence the Loseling monks performed a powerful closing ceremony with more chanting and singing before brushing away all the hard work they put into building the mandala. The sanctuary was packed with attendees as we all watched along in reverence of the ritual. The concept of impermanence is something that has been personally difficult to transcend. As we continue along on the beautiful ride of life we attach ourselves to so many different things. Friends, experiences, prized possessions and new family members are all swept away as we cross the threshold of death. Change creates time and time provides the structure in which we can evolve and tune our spiritual compass. Through realization of impermanence and the eternal nature of spirit we can bring ourselves deeper into the present moments of our day to day lives. The Now is the only place from which we can make waves of change for the future of ourselves and our beautiful global community.
“In the end
these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?”