An Ancient Symbol Of Peace

By GARY LIBOW, Hartford Courant, April 23, 2007

In Old Saybrook, Buddhists Dedicate A New Monument From An Old Tradition
OLD SAYBROOK, Connecticut (USA)
-- A peaceful and harmonic aura radiated from a local farm field Sunday as Tibetan monks spent hours consecrating a stupa with ancient Buddhist prayers and mantras.

Several hundred people gathered at the Ingham Hill Road farm of David Brown, a devout Buddhist who lives simply, off the land. Brown spent years planning and helping to raise over $20,000 to build the sacred place.

A stupa, one of the earliest Buddhist monuments, is a domed structure representing Buddha's body. It is designed to evoke peace, enlightenment, dignity and healing, and its features are meant to symbolize earth, water, fire, air and space. About 14 feet high and 10 feet wide, the stupa features a conical spire and is topped with a crescent moon and a disc.

Inside, the Buddha gazes out a window facing east as he sits atop thousands of rolled-up Tibetan prayers encapsulated in brick below.

"It's a blessing to Earth, the environment and all living beings. It brings us back to our inner core," Lobsang Ngodup of New York said of the stupa. A lama, or teacher, Ngodup has taught Brown for many years.

A diverse crowd watched reverently as robed monks chanted the rituals of consecration, rang bells and waved a peacock feather. Incense burned at a table filled with offerings, including crackers, rice and a partially filled Jim Beam bourbon bottle.

Buddhists joyously danced around the stupa. Joy also etched the face of the pony-tailed Brown.

"There were truly more than a thousand people involved in the project ... moved mortar, carried bricks and brought tea," Brown said.

The stupa, Brown said, was constructed with a spirit of inclusion. The land was blessed in March 2006. Ground was broken in June. Local architects helped secure required permits.

Brown, who has taught English in Nepal, has seen many Tibetans, like Jampa Tsondue, resettle in the Old Saybrook area.

"We have been here from day one, digging the earth and the foundation. We finished it yesterday, painting the sun and the moon," said Tsondue, who works as a security guard in Essex.

"I hope it really reflects to all citizens happiness and peace," he said. "You are praying for the good of others, which include all insects, animals and the environment."

Buddhist monk Tsultrim Gyastso, a Middletown resident since 2000, played a major role designing and building the stupa. Gyastso has also constructed stupas in Tibet and India.

"Today, I have a great pleasure and happiness with the stupa done and all of the people gathered here," said Gyastso, a monk since he was 16. "I am praying for all the residents of the towns."

Kyle Telesco, 19, a U.S. Coast Guard Academy freshman from Brookfield, considers himself a "spiritual free agent." He closely watched the ancient rituals and the community bond over a vast array of donated food.

"Everyone I talked to has a positive outlook on life," Telesco said. "You have the Tibetan culture and the American culture, and it came together. ... I did a lot of thinking on my own and came to a lot of conclusions that are in line with Buddhist thought."

Telesco was upbeat despite having a particularly heart-wrenching week. His sister attends Virginia Tech, where last Monday a student murdered 32 people in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. She escaped harm.

Rabbi Ilene Bogosian, representing a Chester synagogue, was among the many clergy from other faiths who offered prayer. Earlier, Bogosian pointed out that a stupa represents peace. She said it's important for people to focus on the good and positive in life.

"It's a wonderful thing the community at large is taking a great interest in learning about the Buddhists among them," she said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell could not attend, but she did send a document proclaiming Sunday as "Stupa Day" in Connecticut.

The proclamation noted the Old Saybrook stupa as the first in Connecticut. However, one is built into the architecture of the First Lutheran Church in Waterbury, the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Lewis said Sunday.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who said he was touched by the ceremony, asked for a moment of silence for those slain in the massacre at Virginia Tech. Noting the "anguish" of the week, Blumenthal said the peaceful nature of the stupa and those attending the consecration have restored much of his faith and feeling in the goodness of mankind.

Tsondue, who resettled in Old Saybrook in 1992, said his thoughts have also been on Virginia Tech. "When you have people getting shot, you pray for the victims and for who has been sick and done the bad thing," Tsondue said. "It's very important from a very young age to learn about the harmony of peace."