Upper Keys says goodbye to Buddhist monks

Buddhist monks visiting the Keys pack their van before moving on to the next destination of their U.S. tour.
Buddhist monks visiting the Keys pack their van before moving on to the next destination of their U.S. tour.

Buddhist monks have been making their visit to the Keys an annual occurrence for the past several years, but Keys residents are no less eager to welcome them.

"It's just so joyful to interact with them" said Laurie Peters after meeting a group of Tibetan monks who just finished a tour through the Keys. 

Her reaction was repeated many times over from locals recounting their experiences with the monks from the Deprong Gomang Buddhist monastery in India.

Their missions are world peace, interfaith cooperation, bringing attention to the political turmoil in their homeland and raising money to support their fellow monks exiled to India. While they travelled around town doing the spiritual work of blessing ceremonies and creating sand mandalas, they will be long remembered by many local children for simply talking to them.

Children seemed to instantly relate to the monks. A young girl at the Art Under the Oaks fair at San Pedro Catholic Church on Plantation Key stopped and offered a high five to the monk named Tsai. She laughed out loud each time she said: "High five, now low five, ha ha, gotcha," as she pulled her hand away. 

The monk laughed along with her and patiently let her play over and over until she tired of the game.

"They are sharing their peace," said Emily Haroum, 12, as she sat for a long time watching the monks create one of the intricately detailed sand mandalas that took more than eight hours to complete at the fair.

"I could never be that patient," Haroum said as she watched the monks painstakingly lay down tiny amounts of colored sand to complete the design specifically drawn to promote world peace.

Bradley Wise, 10, and Tristan Sanchez, 8, paid close attention as Kalsang explained the working of the thin metal stylus he and his fellow monks used to place the sand into the design.

"It's great how they all work together, a good example," Wise said. 

“They came to a field trip my school went on,” Sanchez said. “They were really cool."

Coral Shores High School clarinet player Evelyn Betancourt took a turn playing the tongchin at Art Under the Oaks. The high school senior did quite well at coaxing tones from this highly embellished, 6-foot long, telescoping Tibetan horn.

<subhead>Food event

Subtle harmonies wafted through the air at the Upper Keys Garden Club one Tuesday evening.  Each chanted verse started with the low register of chant master Younton's throat singing and continued on in a repetitive, almost meditative way, drifting off into silence at the end.

The audience listened in respectful silence, even a few small children sat quietly as the monks performed the solemn blessing ceremony. 

A bell chimed at the end , and it was time for the monks to share some of their Tibetan home cooking with the 40 or so gathered.

Momos, or Tibetan style dumplings, were proudly presented by Tsai, one of the chef/monks.  Vegetable-filled and meat-filled momos were on order with a dipping sauce that could have been rated 3 alarm for its spicy kick, and the monks delighted in watching the reactions of those trying their sauce.

<Subhead>The Sacred Art Tour

Mustard yellow may be the hot new color on the red carpet and the White House this season, but the Tibetan monks have been wearing robes of maroon and mustard for eons, and these colors stood out boldly against the pure white of the van they travel through their busy schedule in. 

While their look and teachings are ancient, they live in the modern world. Some of the monks carried smart phones, taking snaps and proudly showing photos of their homeland, offering to share pictures on WeChat.

Among the group of eight monks, four of them have achieved geshe status, equivalent to a western PhD. 

Geshe Tsewang Thinley, who leads the group with quiet dignity and subtle humor, named the many places these monks from the Deprong Gomang Buddhist monastery in India have already visited six months into their year-long Sacred Art Tour through the United States: Chicago, St. Louis, New York City, Ohio, Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 

Tinley is enjoying the U.S., especially Florida, its weather and people. He has only one complaint:  "Too many chemicals in the food in the U.S."

After doing numerous blessing ceremonies (including one at night using fire), participating in interfaith ceremonies at local churches, music and dance evenings, holding dinners and speaking to school children, the eight monks have now packed up the van and left the Keys to embark on the rest of their tour, next stop: Coral Springs.