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Monks, students love chance to teach each other

On an ordinary weekday, Grizzly Hill School is a quiet cluster of blue-roofed, off-white cottages amidst the pine-clothed San Juan Ridge.

On Tuesday morning, however, the usual silence was punctuated with the sounds of Buddhist ritual instruments, as seven Tibetan monks sat in a row in one of the largest rooms of the school chanting and performing for the students and other members of the community who had gathered to see them.

This was the sixth consecutive year they visited the school with a cozy student population of about 90 children.



“The monks love it,” said Joseph Guida, founder of Sierra Friends of Tibet, the organization which has sponsored their visit to Nevada County. “When they interact with children, they have the biggest smiles on their faces.”

For the past couple of weeks, the monks from the Gaden Shartse monastery in southern India have held several performances and lectures, mostly in Grass Valley, in addition to some school visits in the area.




“This particular monastery (Gaden Shartse) made a decision that the tours that come to America (should) meet the people, share time and communication, and not just go to big cities and big halls but get out into communities, suburban, rural, and semi-rural,” Guida said. “And, of course, for the monks education is very important. The kids touch the monks’ lives and the monks touch the kids’ lives. It’s special.”

At Grizzly Hill, the atmosphere was festive on Tuesday. It was the “Monk Day,” as the students call the annual visits by the monks. “Bear flags” – colorful pieces of cloth, each the size of a kerchief, bearing pictures of bears and words like “peace” and “freedom,” reminiscent of and honoring traditional Buddhist prayer flags – fluttered in the sunlit-afternoon breeze.

The monks performed the traditional Tibetan “yak” dance, and chanted from their scriptures. They also answered questions from the children – meaningful ones like, “What is your culture like?” to not-so-meaningful ones like “Do you have pineapples (in Tibet)?”

The children choir then sang “Swing low sweet chariot” for their eastern guests. This was followed by a game of basketball between the children and the younger monks and a lunch – serving Tibetan dishes like vegetarian and non-vegetarian dumplings, bread, soup, and barley.

“I’d have to say (I am) very honored,” said 14-year-old Zane Giffin, who on behalf of the school received a white silk scarf – a symbol of respect – from Rinpoche, the leader of the group of monks. “I know some people, they want to share their religion, but they can be, shall we say, overzealous. These people they share it, but it’s not like they convert you. They’re just trying to further enlighten the student body.

“Every time they come here, it’s more peaceful than any other day of the year. I’m not kidding about that. I’m amazed and honored that they would want to come to the school in the first place.”

Lobsang, 63, an American monk in the group, hoped the visit was useful for the children.

“We really believe that children hold the future for the planet,” he said. “One of our messages to the children is that we have to change our lifestyles. We also tell them that the way to peace for the planet is non-violence. This is the actual route to peace.”

Diana Pasquini, a place-based educator at Grizzly Hill, who first arranged the monks’ visit six years ago, felt the visitors provided a window to the world for the children.

“It is a happy experience for everyone,” she said. “The children experience their (the monks’) diversity. They experience a unity, too. It is a day of celebration.”

To contact staff writer Soumitro Sen, e-mail soumitros@theunion.com or call 477-4229.


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