The smell of incense filled the room as more than 60 people gathered for a Green Tara empowerment ceremony at the Akron-Canton Shambhala, [Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio].
Four Tibetan monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery in India assisted in the ceremony held this week at the Buddhist meditation center on Portage Trail.
The four monks are on a tour of the country.
Jangchub Chophel said he and the other three are among about 1,000 monks living in a refugee camp in southern India.
Buddhists use meditation and ritual to achieve wisdom and a spirit of peace and purity. The female deity Tara represents compassion, enlightened activity and relief from bad karma.
Tara has 21 major forms represented by different colors. The Green Tara offers compassion, sympathy and fearlessness to the believers.
”She’s a remover of obstacles,” said Chophel. ”She’s there to rescue.”
Chophel assisted in the ceremony and served as an interpreter.
Originally from southern California, and also known as John Bruna, Chophel
has been a Tibetan monk for five years.
A divorced single father and high school history teacher, the former Catholic said he was drawn to Buddhism.
”It just seemed to answer a lot of questions for me. The first book I read on Buddhism taught me to be a better Christian,” said the 48-year-old monk.
With his daughter grown, Chophel said, he figured he ”could get in another relationship or become a monk.”
His daughter, Jessica Rose, 28, is the mother of a nearly 1-year-old daughter, Caitlyn Rose.
”My daughter has been very supportive,” he said.
Jessica Rose had to give permission for him to join the monastery. The customary tradition is for the parent to grant permission. His daughter also gives him a small allowance and a cell phone to use.
Chophel said he also had the blessing of his priest, a gesture that offered some solace to his late mother, a devout Catholic.
”He assured my mom I’d be OK being a Buddhist monk,” he said.
Only about six of the 1,000 monks living at the monastery are Westerners.
A cleansing ritual started the ceremony in Cuyahoga Falls.
A monk poured liquid into shoeless attendees’ cupped hands. They were instructed to rinse their mouths with the liquid, called ”nectar,” then spit it into a bowl.
Through a series of Tibetan chants and various rituals, the participants were encouraged to cleanse themselves of negative thoughts, actions and feelings. They were called to be empowered to become kinder and purer.
Green Tara is ”there to provide support whenever you need help and guidance,” Chophel told those in attendance.
”It’s a visualization practice,” explained Richard Weiner, director of practice and education at the Falls center.
He said participants are called to visualize the deity and relate to her qualities.
The monks sat on cushions on the floor, as did some of the attendees. Others sat on chairs.
”The Tibetans didn’t even have a word for chairs [because they always sit on the floor], so they invented a word for chair that means ‘lift butt,’ ” said Bill Kirchner of Medina.
”I’ve been wanting to come [to the center] and I saw this [advertised] online,” Diana Davis of Akron said of her first visit. ”I intend to come back. It just made me feel good and cleansed inside. Made me feel a greater connection to all that is.”
Everett Cook of Cuyahoga Falls said he attends meditations two or three times a week at the center.
Cook said he wants to believe, but still has some doubts. Events like the ceremony this week are ”kind of like a suspension of disbelief. This pulled me closer to believing.”
He said he wants to follow Buddhism to ”make me a better person, make me happier, make me of better use to the world.”
Katy Scarpitti of Akron was a first-time attendee.
”I was curious and I was invited,” she said. ”I felt that it was relaxing and cleansing.”
Chris Chamberlin of Wadsworth serves on the center’s council and attends sessions two or three times a week.
He said such ceremonies as the Green Tara empowerment are rare because it is a group experience, rather than individual meditation.
He said he was drawn to Buddhism because ”for me it’s a profound way to feel connected to the larger community. A sense of compassion, an open heart.”