Sunday, September 27, 2009

San Francisco: Buddhist monks lead prayers at Episcopal Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral seems to be getting in to the act late on having Buddhist monks come in to make prayer mandalas, but the San Francisco Chronicle thought it was news. What interests me is the way the activity is spun as cultural preservation rather than religious indoctrination.
Mandalas grace Grace Cathedral

Meredith May, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Protractors and pencils in hand, four Tibetan monks silently drew precise lines on a table inside Grace Cathedral.

They flew to San Francisco from Nepal to build intricate sand Shi-tro mandalas - ancient Tibetan circular artworks that symbolize peaceful awareness.

Notice how the story lede is promoting the claim these are merely artworks of a particular culture although the practitioners are clearly representatives of a particular religion. A simple google search on "Shi-tro" brings up the fact that this mandala image is a "path to enlightenment" and provides other spellings Zhi khro, and Xi tro, shi khro, and xi khro. Wikipedia has interesting information about Shi-tro under the spelling Zhitro which clearly associates the mandala practice with Buddhist religious teaching.

But the SF Chronicle seems to shift back and forth between acknowledging this is Buddhist religious practice and treating this as a cultural artwork activity:

Using metal cones similar to a cake decorator's funnel, they carefully tapped colorful grains of sand into the pattern they had drawn.

The delicate artwork will take about 65 hours to complete, and on Sunday, in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the monks will sweep the mandalas away. They will cast the sand into the bay to remember that everything is impermanent, and so that the prayers the lamas made while creating it will live on in the currents.

For master mandala-maker Lama Thogme, 47, who has created innumerable mandalas, it's his first invitation to make one inside a Christian church.

"It's very meaningful," he said through an interpreter. "Doing this shows that no matter what your religious tradition, we all share a common fiber, a common purpose of peace."

The lamas are being aided by middle school students from San Francisco and Oakland who have participated in a dharma summer camp run by the nonprofit Tools for Peace in Tehachapi (Kern County), which is sponsoring the goodwill visit along with the American Foundation for Tibetan Cultural Preservation.

OK, finally we learn who is behind this. Obviously, Tools for Peace and the Tibetan Cultural Preservation are promoting a Buddhist path to peace. But actually we never learn who in the Episcopal Church is behind this. And then skipping down to the end of the article, in the second to last paragraph, we learn there will be a fundraiser at Grace Cathedral regarding this:
Today, longtime Tools for Peace supporter singer k.d. lang will join the lamas at a gala fundraiser at the cathedral.

Is this a fundraiser for the Episcopal Church? No, searching on line we can find that this is a fundraiser for the Buddhist organization:
k.d lang will perform inside Grace Cathedral for a fundraiser to benefit Tools for Peace, a program that empowers youth and adults through training in motivation, mindfulness, meditation and compassion in camps, classrooms and workshops in California.


The Underground Pewster said...

From one of your links, we owe the Shi-Tro mandala to Guru Rinpoche:

"the Shi-Tro mandala...By looking at it you can be purified of all negative karma (the harmful consequenes of your actions). It transforms emotions such as fear and anger into compassion and altruism."

"The legend goes on to say that in the Wood Monkey Year of 804 Guru Rinpoche left Tibet by riding through the air on a horse - astonishing the crowd! It is written that he said 'When the iron bird flies, the teachings will go to the West.'"

I am not sure if the mandala purifies the negative karma, or the individual is to purify him/herself during meditation on the mandala. In either case, to my Christian mind, I do not have the power to purify, nor does a work of art. Only the blood of God incarnate can do so. The Episcopal church by promoting the Shi-Tro, is telling its members that the cross is not needed for salvation.

Perpetua said...

"The Episcopal church by promoting the Shi-Tro, is telling its members that the cross is not needed for salvation."
Yes! Thank you, Pewster.