Just days after an estimated 2.5 million people traveled to Cartago to visit La Negrita, Costa Rica’s patron saint, six Tibetan monks arrived from India on a different kind of pilgrimage.
Aiming to spread harmony and raise money to sustain their Gaden Shartse monastery in the countryside of southern India, the monks are spending three weeks in Costa Rica providing spiritual services and giving clinics on tenants of their beliefs.
In addition to courses on Buddhist topics, they are offering Buddhist astrology and spiritual cleansing rituals for people, homes and businesses.
The monks kicked off their visit Aug. 5 with an environmental purification ceremony in the park of the University for Peace outside Ciudad Colón, a farming town southwest of San José.
During the ceremony, called Ten-del-yultrul in Tibetan, the rhythmic syllables of ancient chants filled the air as the orangerobed monks performed a ritual meant to balance elements in the physical and spiritual worlds that have been disturbed by humans.
As the monks chanted, one monk intermittently rang a bell and another poured water from a teakettle-like object called a pumpa, or holy base. The eldest monk, Geshe Lobsung Sonam, washed a circular metal disk with the water and shook it off in various directions, and near the end of the ceremony, the monks donned crested yellow hats.
Though sometimes puzzling to people unfamiliar with Buddhist ritual, each of the monks’ actions has symbolic significance.
The bell, for example, symbolizes the compassion of enlightened beings for all people and things, said Ten Zin Dhondup, who translates from Tibetan to English for the monks.
The metal disk represents a mirror that reflects the purifying water in every direction, cleansing the area, and the hats signify the monks’ decision to follow the path of Buddha in their quest for enlightenment. Tibetan Buddhism dates to 173 A.D., when it was introduced by King Lha Thothori Nyantsen, according to the Web site of the Tibetan government in exile (www.tibet.com).
The belief system was centered in Tibet for nearly 1,800 years until, in the face of aggression against Tibet by China during the Cultural Revolution, 14th Dalai Lama Lhamo Thondup took refuge in India in 1959. He set up a government in exile and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his advocacy for the liberation of Tibet through nonviolent means.
The Dalai Lama has visited Costa Rica on several occasions, most recently in 2004. Though most of the approximately 6,000 monasteries and nunneries in Tibet have been damaged or destroyed, about 600 Tibetan Buddhist centers are currently functioning worldwide, according to the site.
The Gaden Shartse monastery, originally founded in Tibet in the 1400s, was reestablished in 1969 in India.
The monastery houses more than 1,600 students, teachers and scholars, many of whom are refugees from Tibet, according to the Web site of the 2005 Gaden Shartse tour (gadenshartsetour.org).
At the monastery, pupils study basic subjects including poetry, mathematics and Tibetan history in preparation for advanced courses such as Buddhist logic and philosophy.
As part of becoming monks, pupils take a total of 230 vows, including vows of celibacy and promises not to lie or kill any living thing.Monks’ names also link them to their spiritual life. When a pupil comes to a monastery, he takes the name of the spiritual center’s director, and his spiritual mentor chooses a second name for him.
Tours serve to support the monastery, which provides food, shelter, schooling and books for its population. In addition to helping with daily expenses, the tour is funding construction of a new debating courtyard at the spiritual center.
The monks’ visit to Costa Rica is part of a year-long Latin American tour that has already taken them to Mexico and Panama.
One of the monks on the tour is Jamba Dhondup, 30, who joined the monastery when he was 8 after an oracle told his parents he was well suited for a spiritual life.
In addition to supporting his monastery, being on tour gives him a window on the world he rarely saw in the secluded academic environment where he grew up.
“When you go for comparing your own culture you will understand and appreciate it more,” in addition to helping others enrich themselves, Jamba Dhondup said through Ten Zin.
Some of the approximately 40 people who attended the ceremony Saturday were more attracted to the ideals it represents than the quest for enlightenment.
“We are interested in Buddhism, peace, the environment,” said Nati Steverlynck, 29, who works as a midwife. She attended the event with her husband Ricardo Kogel, who works for The Nature Conservancy, and her niece Isabella Cubillo.
Others described themselves as practicing Buddhists and said they were touched by the power of the ceremony.
“It is a beautiful vibration that they bring,” said Janine Fafard, who has taught yoga for 20 years. “It’s not just symbolic, it’s very real.”
The lectures and events scheduled for the coming weeks will be held in the eastern San José neighborhood of Los Yoses. From the Casa Italia, the house is 100 meters east and 25 meters north on the lefthand side. It has a banner outside picturing the monks.
Lectures cost $15. Tibetan astrology readings, individual cleansing ceremonies and home or business cleansing ceremonies cost $50, $50 and $75 respectively, and are available every day by prior appointment.
For more information or to make an appointment, call 234-8503.
Aug. 11: Meditation techniques, 7 p.m.
Aug. 12: Introduction to Menlha – the
Buddha of medicine, noon.
Aug. 13: Group healing session for
Aug. 14: Introduction to Dukhar – energy
to counteract sorrow, 7 p.m.
Aug. 15: Introduction to Vajarapani,
Garuda, Hayagriva – to increase internal
power and protection, 7 p.m.
Aug. 16: “Kangso” group healing –
offerings of protection with songs and
sacred instruments, 7 p.m.
Aug. 17: Meditation techniques 2, 7 p.m.
Aug. 18: “Gyabshi” group healing –
offerings for the 400 elements to overcome obstacles, noon.
Aug. 19: Introduction to Chenrezyg – the compassion of Buddha, noon.
Aug. 20: Class on death, afterlife and rebirth, 7 p.m.
Aug. 21: Introduction to Vajrasatva – Buddha and the purification of obstacles and negative karma.
Aug. 22: Cleansing and harmony, 7 p.m.