In late January, Tibetan monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in South India toured the Keys as part of their annual Sacred Arts Tour, spreading peace and blessings.
“So many beautiful things happen when they’re here,” said organizer Denise Downing of Keys to Peace in Islamorada. “I call it ‘magic,’ but they tell me it’s more like ‘karma.’ There are no coincidences here. They bring a very special energy to the Keys and people feel it.”
Sighing calmly, Downing added, “They make my heart swell.”
The monks will travel throughout the U.S. as part of a 15-month tour to share their culture and philosophy and to raise money. Their outreach supports the 2,300 monks who reside at the monastery and the Free Tibet movement.
The monks graciously discuss compassion and the wisdom of emptiness, traditional Tibetan Buddhist teachings, in addition to performing many ceremonies for luck. They construct and destroy an intricate sand mandala to emphasize the impermanence of life and the merit of not becoming attached to things. People, places and pets are blessed to remove sicknesses or obstacles and to create good energy towards goals. Political and cultural challenges of living in exile are discussed without anger.
“The monks bring people together, all kinds of people from all over,” said Downing, looking around at the mixed congregation at Keys Jewish Community Center (KJCC). “They’re enlightened, I tell ya.” KJCC hosted an interfaith and multicultural musical evening which included drum circles, classical piano and traditional deep chanting.
Minyak Rinpoche joined the monastery at 5 years old. He was personally recognized by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and has lived at the monastery since. Minyak explained that their mission is to promote personal discipline and world peace. “When we control our emotions, we learn to move beyond the trappings of this life,” he said.
As part of the Upper Keys Tour, the monks also performed an animal liberation ceremony before releasing a rehabilitated sea turtle in conjunction with the Turtle Hospital and Islander Resort.
A grateful onlooker told Minyak, “Thank you for sharing your culture and love and for the space you hold in the world for peace.” The monk nodded with a smile and a bow, and the onlooker added, “We really need it — us, the turtles, everyone. Thank you.”