Sustenance for the Mind

By Karen Gadiel, Ithaca Times, July 12, 2006

Ithaca, New York (USA) -- A summer breeze can carry so much more than a pleasant reminder of warm weather. For the Tibetan Buddhist monks of Namgyal Monastery, moving air is also a conduit for offerings of incense, smoke and prayers. All who wish to learn more are invited to a smoke offering and prayer flag ceremony at the Ithaca Farmers' Market on Sunday at 11 am.

We're hoping people will get some new things in their lives, get some familiarity with another culture and also have a good time," said Tenzin Thuop, a monk at Namgyal who has lived in Ithaca for six years. "The Farmers' Market is a natural kind of thing and Tibetan prayers are natural kinds of things."

For example, traditional Tibetan prayer flags reflect nature in the five colors used, representing sky (blue), clouds (white), fire (red), water (green) and earth (yellow). Sayings from the Buddhas and mantras (prayers) are printed on each flag. "When they move, all the mantras move their energies, so that's carrying that positive energy on this earth," he explained.

The intent is to pray for goodness on this earth, to hope people will enjoy their lives and get some insights into nature, he said. Tibetans traditionally "believe in different kinds of spirits - spirits who reside in the rocks, some reside in the river, some in woods, in all different kinds of material things," he said, adding that smoke from sweet-smelling plants and other organic substances makes the spirits happier.

In the smoke offering will be "Juniper and our own incense from India and Tibet, and barley flowers and butter," Thuop shared. "These are all considered organic substances that we use in Tibetan life, so that's a pure kind of substance to offer to the local spirits."

The monks will also be chanting prayers, and members of the area Tibetan community, which is at least 40 strong and, like a large family, includes the monks of Namgyal in their group activities, will assist with the ceremonies and perform Tibetan dances.

"It's not only something monks do," said Thondup Dorjee Zurkhang, a board member of the local Tibetan cultural organization. "It's just like a part of the daily life, burning incense and hanging up prayer flags." Zurkhang, who works at Ithaca's Snow Lion Publications, said he often explains the many types and uses of prayer flags to customers who want to know more about them.

While there are a variety of flags and prayers one might offer with them, he tells people, "Hang up prayer flags in a very clean place at different heights. The wind carries the mantra to spread peace and goodness."

Zurkhang said the Farmer's Market is a good venue for people to become acquainted with Tibetan culture. "This might be something new for many people who want to know more," he added.

There are future opportunities as well, including the group's annual Tibetan culture day in the third week of November at the Women's Community Building.