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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Lessons from the monks: Detach. Let go. Move on.

June 14, 2009

By Savannah Morning News



I love the Tibetan monks. I love their joy, their gravity, their passion and the way they can shift from one emotion to the
next, almost seamlessly. I love their strong, brown, hairless arms, the deep, throaty, other-worldly sound of their


I love their frilly, half-moon shaped, yellow hats. I want a hat, though I feel bad when I think that because I have so
much already and anyway, isn't that what Buddhism and Zen is all about, NOT wanting something?


I love their agelessness and their patience. I marvel at the wonder they evoke and the assortment and numbers of people
they draw around them.


I love their colors, any and all variations of yellow, saffron, red and orange.


Hosting a meal


I love their obvious sense of humor. During their visit, which ended last Sunday, I volunteered to serve them lunch at my
house. But before we ate, we toured my garden on 38th Street. Impulsively, I yanked a carrot from the ground and handed it
over to the monk who sets the deep tone when the group starts to chant. He pressed it to his nose and looked at me.


"That's lunch!" I said.


He smiled.


I think he knew I was joking.


I served all the vegetables I had in my fridge - beets, sweet banana peppers, roasted red peppers - plus a colorful batch
of tabouli and some blackberries picked at the Bamboo Farm that I sprinkled over vanilla ice cream. They seemed to enjoy
everything but especially the flowers, plenty of orange crocosmia, red alstromeria, deep red monarda, large bulbous heads
of garlic and, the piece de resistance, a purple passion flower that they handled with care as they passed it around the


Don't get attached


By the time last Sunday's closing ceremony rolled around, when the monks would chant over their completed mandala before
mushing it into a small pile of sand to deposit into the river, I was feeling pretty good about the lesson or lessons they
were here to demonstrate. Don't get attached. The process is what counts. Remember to be mindful, to be grateful. The
purpose of life is to end suffering. The desire for things and to control things is what causes suffering. Nothing is


I was ready. I got it.


With everyone else, I watched as a monk picked up and redistributed a few pieces of the sand. He seemed to move it at
random. I stood on my tiptoes to watch him take a tool and draw two lines through the center of the design, dividing the
pattern into quadrants. After walking around the design, he took what looked like a 5-inch paintbrush and began making
swirls in the sand, brushing everything into the center. Eventually he scooped it all into an urn.


People gasped, shuffled, pushed closer to see better. Photos were going off right and left. For someone who had never seen
this exercise in letting go, who believed in working hard and moving forward, this was blasphemy. This was sacrilege. Wait!
Hadn't they heard the Beatles' song "Let it Be"? Didn't they ever hear the definition of attachment as something that gives
you rope burn? The tighter you hold on, the more it slips through your fingers.


I could have told them. Detach. Let go. Move on.


Finally, before leaving for the procession to the river, the monks handed out small bags of sand to anyone who wanted one.
That's where I started to get a little confused; that's when I remembered my thoughts are always a little behind my


If all of this is supposed to be about the impermanence of things, then why were we taking so many pictures to remember
what we were seeing? Why were we waiting in line to take home some sand of something we once knew as whole? Why did some of
us hang back to stand in another line, a commercial line, credit cards in hand, to buy journals handmade by Tibetan
refugees in India?


Why was I suddenly so angry that my newly re-discovered cousin Lynne Alvarez, bright, funny, kind, compassionate, seemingly
healthy, had to die of some stupid brain tumor at age 65? Why did I want to chop the woman's head off in the doctor's
office the other day when she told me what I owed for what seemed to be a simple 5-minute examination?


Why was I so sad at seeing this beautiful mandala wiped out? I wasn't ready for it to go. I wasn't ready to detach or
disengage. Time to confess: I'm still attached to my feelings.


I love the Tibetan monks. I will see them when they return. I will cook them lunch if I am asked. I will collect flowers,
red and yellow. I will give them rosemary to sniff. I will buy more things - journals, gongs and bumper stickers - to
support their cause. I will pray in my way that the Chinese government allows them to return home to Tibet so they can see
their relatives, so they can smell the flowers they know from childhood.


But I will still be sad when they mess up the mandala.


I guess I have more work to do.


Jane Fishman's columns appear biweekly in Accent. Contact her at [1].

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