| August 26, 1999
C I N C I N N A T I P O S T
East meets Midwest
By Jennifer Harrison, Post contributor
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - On the outskirts of town, the low and
guttural sounds of multiphonic chant swell a 33,000-square-foot tent
with spiritual harmonics of a world far away.
On these softly rolling hills of Southern Indiana a sacred
millennial ritual, known as the Kalachakra Initiation, draws an
estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people from around the world each day.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and a man some Buddhists
revere as a living god, has performed the ceremony at the Tibetan
Cultural Center here since Aug. 17. Closing ceremonies are Saturday.
The Initiation itself concludes today. On Friday, thanks will
be given to the Kalachakra deity. A long-life prayer for the public and
the Dalai Lama concludes the visit.
The Kalachakra Initiation, also known as Turning the Wheel of
Time, was first performed by Buddha himself more than 2,800 years ago,
according to Alexander Berzin in ''Taking the Kalachakra Initiation.''
A sacred system of Buddhist meditations, the ceremony involves a series
of prayers, meditations, dances, chants, lessons and vows.
Kalachakra is dedicated to the achievement of world peace
through the growing enlightenment of participants or disciples of the
teaching. Participants seek to become like Buddha and devote themselves
to helping others. The spiritual teaching helps Buddhists stabilize
their ''aspirations to reach Buddhahood,'' said the Dalai Lama on
Why Bloomington? The answer is found in Thubten Norbu, 78,
the eldest brother of the Dalai Lama, who lives here. Norbu himself was
a lama chosen by the 13th Dalai Lama. Invited to teach at Indiana
University in 1965, he is now retired.
In 1979 Norbu created the Tibetan Cultural Center on land he
owns in a rural corner of Bloomington. At his invitation, his brother
the Dalai Lama agreed to perform the Kalachakra on the cusp of a new
On Day 2, 14 Tibetan monks prepared for the construction of
the Kalachakra mandala - an intricate sand painting - with an earth
ritual dance. Dressed in colorful silk robes and golden hats rising
into red spires, the monks formed a large protective circle as they
intoned their chants. The earth dance is a cleansing ritual to prepare
for the Kalachakra meditation.
Slowly, gracefully the monks swayed, turned, and moved their
arms in large sweeping movements. Crossing their arms they symbolically
create the Buddha mind. The monks called upon the forces of
interference, then banished them with steps and stern kicks.
Throughout the dance they continued their deeply resonant
chants. The sound of tinkling bells sporadically rose above their
trance-like chant and prayers. The smell of pungent incense wafted
through the crowd.
Following the dance a group of monks gathered around a raised
work surface to commence the creation of the mandala. Used to guide the
meditations of the Kalachakra, the mandala is a symbolic map of the
universe. The painting represents deities as well as body, mind, wisdom
As the mandala emerges, Buddhist participants taking the
initiation are guided to imaginatively enter the mandala and journey
toward the center. The journey is toward enlightenment or development
of the Buddha-mind representing both wisdom and compassion.
Each day the Kalachakra ceremony begins with prayers,
meditation and the chants of the Tibetan monks. The monks sit upon
garnet cushions, laid in several rows upon a stage ablaze with silk
wall-hangings depicting symbols and deities of Tibetan Buddhism. Their
chants intone prayers, mantras and sacred text that aid their
Each day the monks continue to create the mandala. They work
with vials of colored sand and painting tools to move the powdered sand
into place. Their painstaking work creates a large circle filled with
many symbols and images within a larger square. The finished mandala
will look like a colorful mosaic.
People attend the Kalachakra Initiation as interested
observers or as participants. Practitioners of Buddhism may choose to
receive the Kalachakra empowerment. Disciples of the Kalachakra
teaching make renunciations and take vows. These include renouncing the
desire for material things and personal gain. Disciples affirm their
desire to attain the Buddha-mind of enlightenment and to work for the
good of others, the Dalai Lama explained.
Whether taking the initiation or not, pilgrims to the
Kalachakra paid $350 each to attend the entire ceremony. The Tibetan
Cultural Center has spent an estimated $2 million on preparations for
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Publication date: 08-26-99