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Monk visits sanctuary, blesses animals, land

One might think farm animal residents of Grass Valley’s Animal Place Sanctuary have received blessing enough in their lives.

Victims of cruelty and neglect, they now live on a sprawling 600-acre farm, bathed in compassion and attention. They wander in spacious barns and pastures, living out their lives in a natural setting.

On Saturday, though, they received an extra blessing when the Venerable Geshe Thupten Phelgye, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, paid a visit to the sanctuary.

For Phelgye, a frequent visitor to Nevada County, the day was a perfect fit with the mission he chose for himself while still in his teens.

This mission would carry him for decades, against much cultural opposition, in the crusade for vegetarianism and compassion for animals.

Bestowing of blessings

Upon arriving at the McCourtney Road sanctuary, Phelgye set about readying the components he would need for the blessing, with the help of Animal Place Executive Director Kim Sturla.

Flowers were pulled from their stems and placed in a basket; these would be used in the blessing of the land, Phelgye explained.

For the animals, sliced apples – a favorite treat of most the animals – and cooked brown rice for the chickens and turkey were placed in a bowl. Water rounded out the list of ingredients, with a small branch plucked from a nearby bush for sprinkling the animals.

Dozens of people gathered at the sanctuary to witness the event. As the group made its way to a nearby field, the Geshe began to bless each item in turn. With what he explained as a combination of visualization and chanting of mantras, the blessing of the land was completed.

Phelgye then addressed the group with a message about generosity.

“Anything you do with generosity, you give with your heart. … Whatever little thing you are able to share from your generosity while you are happy and healthy, it’s a good thing that you do. That is what we call good karma,” he said.

“The best way to help with generosity,” Sturla added, “is to stop eating life, stop eating animals.”

“These little animals have their life,” Phelgye said. “… Life is precious for them. Just try to refrain from causing more harm or being a part of taking their lives. It is the very first step to put into practice.”

As the group moved among the pastures and barns, Phelgye was greeted by many of the animals making their way to the fence with curiosity, accepting the treats and blessings he offered.

As the Geshe reached the cow pasture, Howie nudged his nose over the fence for some attention and gently accepted a piece of apple.

Near the poultry barn, three turkeys lined up and began eagerly pecking at the rice that was offered.

In the pig enclosure, one of the residents was awakened from a nap and began nuzzling through the straw to find her piece of the blessed apple.

Tiffany, a pig recently rescued from a research laboratory which had never seen been allowed outside, and Carmen, a young sheep awaiting a prosthetic leg, both received a healthy sprinkling of water and extra blessings, in hopes of helping with the challenges ahead for them.

ina had taken over Lhasa (Tibet),” Phelgye said. “They decided to leave right away because they were afraid of losing their children. The Chinese were taking young boys back to China.”

When the family left its home in Tibet, Phelgye was 3 years old, his sister 5 and the youngest, a boy, was just one month old, he recalled.

Having no other means of transportation, the family had to make the journey on foot. They suffered setbacks as they made their way through the Himalayas, but would eventually reach India – two years later.

Hardship, however, was not over for the family.

“Life was difficult in India. Every day I saw people dying from all kinds of sickness. There was no health care,” said Phelgye.

Coming from the highest altitude in the world, picking up the way of life in India proved difficult for those that made the journey, he said.

Of his path to becoming a monk, Phelgye said his mother told him at a young age that he was marked for something special, believing that he might even be a reincarnated lama. Had they stayed in their native Tibet, Phelgye would most likely have entered the monastery at the age of 3.

“Because of the situation, we grew up in so much anger and hatred for the Chinese. I was thinking as a child to go into the military and fight back,” he said.

In fact, Phelgye tried to enlist in the Indian army at the age of 13, but was turned away, he said.

Yet his life would soon still change in a profound way. In 1972, the Dalai Lama visited Phelgye’s school, delivering a message of compassion and forgiveness.

“That changed my thoughts and turned me around,” Phelgye said.

By the next year, he had joined a monastery at the age of 17.

Among Tibetan Buddhists, there is a culture of eating meat, Phelgye said. Little else could thrive in the extremely high altitudes of their native land, he added.

Once settled in India, the exiled Buddhists found it difficult to give up their dietary custom of consuming meat and to adapt their diets to the availability of fresh produce.

Even growing up in that culture, Phelgye knew that something “was not working for him.” It all became clear one day as he ran an errand for an ailing, elderly monk, who asked him to go to a slaughterhouse to get some fresh meat.

“I saw the whole process; it was unacceptable, very painful to watch them. … I see the animals being killed, everything from beginning to end. I felt so helpless watching things that went on,” said Phelgye.

“This is how I took it as a mission. … I made a commitment before these dying animals that I would be their voice, I had to do something about this.

“I became opposite to my whole culture, like 99 percent were against me. I had to go through a lot, throughout the decades.”

Phelgye persisted with his message of living a vegetarian lifestyle and eventually won the support of the Dalai Lama.

“When he says one word, it’s like me screaming and yelling for a million times,” Phelgye said.

Today, Phelgye’s monastery has a population of over 6,000 monks – all vegetarians, he said.

He has founded a charitable trust, the Universal Compassion Movement, whose mission is to bring people together to help animals who are headed for slaughter or suffer cruel and inhumane treatment.

“I appreciate Kim (Sturla), it has been my dream to have something like (Animal Place),” Phelgye said.

To contact Copy Editor Kim Midboe, e-mail kmidboe@theunion.com or call 477-4251.

http://www.animalplace.org

http://www.universalcompassion.org