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Faith: Christian and Jewish faiths blend with Buddhism at Litchfield home

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

For one Litchfield family, this is the best Holy Week ever.

The home of Leonard Goldschmidt and his wife, Gabriella Plaza-Goldschmidt, in Litchfield Country Club is the intersection of Judaism, Catholicism and Buddhism this week.

Gabriella Plaza-Goldschmidt said she was raised in a Venezuelan convent. She described her husband as very Jewish. “We met in the middle,” she said. The family is planning to hide some Easter eggs and celebrate Passover this weekend, all while hosting eight monks from the Indian Drepung Gomang Monastery who are building a sand mandala at the Burroughs and Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach.

The Goldschmidts embrace aspects of Buddhism. “There are Jewish Buddhists, Catholic Buddhists,” Gabriella said. “You can adhere to their principles and maintain your own religion. They are at peace with it. If everybody did that, it would be a better world.” Leonard said Buddhism is more of a philosophy of living than worship of a deity. In fact, there is no word in their language for what the Judeo-Christian culture identifies as a deity, he said.

Gabriella said she was so moved by seeing Tibetan monks build a mandala in North Carolina a year ago that her husband promised to bring them to the area so she could experience it again. He gave her the confirmation as a Christmas present. Go figure.

“It was very spiritual, very touching to me,” Gabriella said. “They are so peaceful and willing to give. It makes you feel good.” She said she was having headaches and feeling a little overwhelmed the first time she saw a sand mandala. “The monk I saw that day, he didn’t speak English,” Gabriella said, “but he was so kind. I just felt so much compassion for him. It was an amazing experience, seeing them do the mandala.”

The monks performed an opening ceremony at the museum Monday and began the Tantric Buddhist sand painting. They will complete it Friday at 4 p.m. and conduct a ritual dispersal of the work during a closing ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday by sweeping the colored sand together, giving some away with an additional blessing and throwing the remainder into the ocean.

“One of the things they teach you in Buddhism is that nothing is permanent,” Leonard said. “Things change and evolve, and you have to learn to enjoy them while they are here and let them go and keep enjoying them. It is an exercise in impermanence.

“The Buddhist perspective, as I’ve been taught, is about not becoming overly attached to anything within this world because everything is transient. So, as much beauty as this has, there is a transient nature to it. We build things to enjoy them at the moment and enjoy the process and accept its transformation into something else. It’s not necessarily something bad because it goes into the ocean to bring about more harmony and peace and compassion in the world to relieve suffering and help people become more in touch with a compassionate way of being.”

The Goldschmidts and their seven children are enjoying the cultural exchange with the monks as well as the religious experience. Tsultrim, the only member of the entourage who speaks more than a few words of English, was surprised by the Goldschmidts’ dog, a Chinese Crested named Grace. Her hairless body reminded him of dogs in India, and he laughed with pleasure.

Tsultrim, who taught himself to speak English in the monastery, planned to cook the traditional Tibetan dish momo, a dumpling stuffed with vegetables or meat, for the hosts. It’s not foreign to Leonard.

“There is something in the European Jewish culture called kreplach,” he said. “It’s the exact same thing as momo. I hadn’t had it for 20 years — my grandmother used to make it for me — and two months ago they made it for me. It tasted like my grandmother’s kreplach.”

Gabriella said her sister was coming to visit and help make pasticho from her native country for the monks. Leonard called it a Venezuelan lasagna with white sauce and artichoke hearts in pasta. The visitors were invited to the Blue Elephant restaurant in Murrells Inlet for dinner Tuesday by Paul Byington, a former Buddhist monk himself.

Linda Phillips, owner of Yoga in Common at Market Common is hosting the second of two public meditation workshops today from 3 to 4:30 p.m. The Goldschmidts said she was instrumental in contacting Pat Goodwin, executive director at the art museum, and arranging the event.

Another aspect of the monks’ year-long tour is to educate Americans about the plight of the Tibetan people and to raise money for the monastery in southern India. China took over Tibet in the 1950s, forcing the Dalai Lama and thousands of followers into India. “Most of these monks have either fled Tibet as refugees over the Himalayas as children or they were born in exile,” Leonard said. “It’s been a really rough time for all of them.”

He said the Dalai Lama invited a contingent of rabbis to his monastery, trying to understand how the Jewish people managed to survive culturally in a diaspora for more than 2,000 years. “The Dalai Lama doesn’t know how long it’s going to take before they have the ability to return to their homeland,” Leonard said. “The Chinese have destroyed most of the cultural heritage, iconography, buildings and so forth.

“This is a great opportunity for our people here to learn what joy and happiness is. The Buddhist way of thinking is to recognize that suffering is a way of existence. It’s not that I will be happy when I am no longer suffering or when I have all that I want, but I’ll be happy in spite of my suffering. I think that’s a big lesson that a lot of people need to learn in the West.”

Art as a spiritual journey

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The creation of a sand mandala, a design created with colored sand, begins with chanting. Four Tibetan monks face four others across a blue wooden board that will be their canvas for the week. They are barefoot, dressed in ceremonial orange prayer cover and purple robes. Each puts on a headdress halfway through the ceremony.

The chanting produces a spiritual calm in both the participants and the audience.

“The general idea is for benefit of all beings,” said Jeanne Porter Ashley of Murrells Inlet, who attended the opening day ceremony at the Burroughs and Chapin Art Museum. “That’s what this is all about, to heal the world and us as beings on the planet.”

Once the chanting ends, the monks remove and fold their orange robes before getting down to work. Three begin marking the geometric outline of the mandala with pencils, rulers and a compass. Another monk carefully folds and tears a piece of paper to use for measuring. The sand granules are applied using small tubes, funnels and scrapers, called chak-pur. Formed of a traditional prescribed iconography that includes geometric shapes and a multitude of ancient spiritual symbols, the mandala is used as a tool for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants.

The creation of the mandala is a spiritual event for the monks. They will pray over it constantly until it is finished and swept away Saturday afternoon. The impermanence of the artwork expresses the Buddhist view of enjoying life in the here and now, according to Leonard Goldschmidt, the Litchfield Country Club resident who is the project’s sponsor.

Melissa Kawalski, a resident of Pawleys Island since August, said she was moved to tears by the ceremony Monday. “It was so inspiring,” she said. “It confirmed my beliefs that I needed to be here in Pawleys Island. I was tired of corporate America and moved here for a fuller life and to surround myself with people looking for peace.”

If you go

Opportunities to see the Tibetan monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery include:

April 3, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Burroughs and Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach as they work on a sand mandala.

April 4, 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Waccamaw Library for a meditation. Participants should bring their own pillows.

April 4, 2 p.m. at the museum for the closing ceremony and dispersal of the mandala into the ocean.

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