Monks enchant students

By Nanci G. Hutson, THE NEWS-TIMES, Dec 6, 2005

Tibetan Buddhists bring mystical message to Canterbury

New Milford, CT (USA) -- The chant of the Tibetan Buddhist monk was a deep, reverberating melody with a surprisingly soothing effect.

<< Buddhist monk Geshe Jamyang Tsering wraps his robe around himself during Tuesday‘s seminar on Buddhism with students at the Canterbury School in New Milford. - The News-Times/Wendy Carlson

For almost 15 minutes, the 61-year-old monk stretched his vocal chords to give Canterbury School students a lesson in traditional Buddhist chant as a prayerful meditation.

Its mystical qualities worked magic. "It was really relaxing," said junior Anna Slaybaugh. "It was just so interesting."

Two monks visited the school Tuesday to talk about their lives and beliefs.

Khensur Rinpoche Choejor and Geshe Jamyang Tsering escaped the Chinese occupation in 1959 with their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. They relocated to India, helped rebuild a monastery, and over the past 40 years have trained other monks in Buddhist practice and philosophy.

Their heads are shaved and they wore saffron robes and beatific smiles.

Khensur Rinpoche led the chanting and talks in class, which were translated by Tenzin Shastri of Minnesota.

The monks also spoke to several students in world religion and Eastern philosophy classes. They taught about reincarnation and moral values, with a practical twist: Silence and meditation can calm stressful, pre-exam nerves.

Rinpoche explained that meditation is an analytical process that can help the mind relinquish negative thoughts, with the ultimate goal to free people from their anxieties, animosities and other harmful emotions.

Through the natural process of breathing, the mind can find instant relief, and as one inhales a person is encouraged to visualize positive images so that the mind is nourished with "love and compassion," the monk said.

Rinpoche talked about enlightenment, and the Buddhist belief that all things in the world are interconnected, which leads to respect and compassion for all things. That is why Buddhists are pacifists, he said.

For most students, Buddhism is a philosophy they might study, but most will never get to hear an actual monk's chant.

"We talk about things like this, but it's a completely different experience to see them in action," Slaybaugh said.

Senior Carolyn Malloy said the monks' talk reinforced what she has been studying in their world religion course.

To be in their presence, to hear them laugh and to rub their shaved heads made it possible to see them as true human beings, Malloy said. Otherwise, she said, they seem more like caricatures.

"You only see these guys in movies," Malloy said. "It's cool to have them right here."

The monks' visit to Canterbury is one stop on a peace tour through the United States and Canada. They came to Canterbury from Houston, and they are headed to Baltimore.

Amy Omana, a Canterbury teacher of Eastern philosophy and world religion, helped her students question the monks.

"To have this authentic experience of them teaching us is extraordinary," Omana said.