Tibetan Monks Meet Shaker Tradition

May 18, 2012

This weekend, the Canterbury Shaker Village opens its doors for the season.

It’s 600 acres of stillness, of restored buildings and manicured fields. But there’s one thing missing.

“Visitors come here expecting to see Shakers,” says Funi Burdick, Executive Director of the Village.

"We have no Shakers here. But today, when I got out of my car, and I looked across and saw Tibetan Monks walking across the Shaker fields, I thought, ‘How curious?’ And yet at the same time, they resonate the same peacefulness that I imagine the Shakers would have if they were here today.”

Eight monks from the Dropung Gomang Monastic College are spending a week in New Hampshire. It’s part of a year-long American tour to raise awareness, and also funds for the monastery’s upkeep.

Dropung was created in 1969 in southern India after a group of monks fled Tibet following Chinese oppression.

The monks will build a traditional sand mandala during their stay here. And they’ll also take part in a lecture about the parallels between the Shaker and Buddhist traditions.

Burdick says the Shakers, a devout and now nearly extinct branch of Christianity, share many ideals with the monks.

“One of their favorite sayings, when someone had stolen some of their corn from their fields was, ‘I guess we need to plant more corn.’ And I think that would resonate with Tibetan Monks today, as well,” says Burdick.

One of the monks, Geshe Tsondu, will help lead the discussion. The 42-year old says that New Hampshire is the type of place he could get used to.

“All the people are very nice,” he says. “Living in the peace, also. Not very busy I think. The place is very nice, evergreen. Lots of forest around here. Very nice here. Yeah, I like it in New Hampshire.”

The monks are staying with Bethany Reed at her house in Concord. On this night, they’re preparing to cook a vegetarian meal. Reed takes the crew over to Hannaford’s for ingredients.

The flowing robes, the shaved heads…they definitely stand out against the grocery store’s fluorescent aisles.

After shopping, the monks head back to Reed’s home to begin vegetable soup with noodles.

The home is large and well furnished, but when the dinner is complete, the monks sit on the bare floor in the hallway to eat.

Reed, a yoga instructor and nurse practitioner student, says that choice symbolizes a philosophy, a life choice that she hopes can help guide her after they leave.

“They remind you to be present,” says Reed. “They remind you that simplicity is so accessible. And when they’re around you, you feel it. And then when it’s away, there is an appreciation for it, and an absence of it.”

The monks will continue working on the sand mandala through Sunday. Then, after dozens of hours of labor, they will dismantle the intricate structure. The sand is swept together and then dispersed during a prayer ceremony.

Buddhists say the creation and destruction symbolizes impermanence. Of not getting attached to material things.

It’s a symbol the Shakers surely would have understood.