Arjia Rinpoche, the director of The Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, and two other monks sat on the floor of an outdoor stage in matching red garb,
chanting a Puja, a long life prayer.
The cultural center in Bloomington celebrated its first Kaleidoscope Festival on Saturday, honoring the 77th birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.
As they prayed in Tibetan, members of the audience approached the stage, removed their shoes and placed multi-colored khatas onto a shrine at the back of the stage.
A khata is a ceremonial silk scarf decorated with auspicious Buddhist symbols to symbolize purity and compassion. One by one, members of the audience approached the shrine, dropped to their knees, put their hands together and prayed to His Holiness.
“We offer you our prayers with intense devotion, that Tenzin Gyatso, protector of the great land of snows, may live for 100 eons,” Center Manager Trish Ellis read from the prayer in English.
In the center of the grassy field, smoke from a can of incense trickled into the sky.
Aside from the Puja, events at the festival included an Arthur Murray Dance Performance, international fashion show, Kundun movie, a music jam and a presentation from Rinpoche about the Mongolian Hospital Project.
Beginning construction last year, Rinpoche is currently raising funds to open the Cancer Care Treatment Center for Mongolian Children.
Currently, Rinpoche said they have raised around $300,000, with most donations contributed by the Bloomington community.
Although Rinpoche said he hopes the hospital will open next year, $2 million is still needed. Once the hospital is open, Rinpoche said he expects people to donate more generously.
The Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, located at 3655 Snoddy Road, was founded in 1979 by the Dalai Lama’s older brother, Thubten Norbu. It provides the Bloomington community with Buddhist teachings and promotes interfaith peace and harmony.
In 1998, Rinpoche fled from Tibet because of the repression of Tibetan culture and religion. In 2005, he was appointed director of Bloomington’s cultural center by the Dalai Lama.
Rinpoche’s autobiography “Surviving the Dragon,” published in 2010, recounts his life and the story of Tibet during recent years.
“We have been talking for the last year about having a birthday celebration for the Dalai Lama, and we decided this year would be a good time to get the tradition started,” Trish Ellis, the center’s manager, said.
Although the Kaleidoscope Festival’s main purpose was to honor the Dalai Lama, Trish Ellis said the celebration also focused on Bloomington’s multi-cultural community.
The fashion show represented a variety of cultures, including traditional fashion from Tibet, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Turkey and Brazil.
Inside the cultural center, a man hummed softly and strummed a guitar. Members of the audience meditated. A silent auction exhibited traditional pottery, paintings, jewelry, a traditional Japanese fan and other items, with proceeds supporting the center.
IU graduate Jeremy Gotwals said he has been attending services at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center since he was 13.
Although he was raised Christian, he said he contemplated for some time about becoming a Buddhist monk. Straying from that plan, he opened his own business in Bloomington, Holon Publishing.
“Buddhism is a unique thing because it’s not a religion,” Gotwals said. “What we’re looking at isn’t an act of worship. A friend asked me earlier, ‘Who are we praying to?’ Prayer in Buddhism is pretty much about the mind and the thoughts you project.”
Trish Ellis’ husband Russ Ellis first began exploring Buddhism in the 1970s during his “hippie days.” The lifestyle resonated with him, he said, and now he lives and works at the cultural center.
Russ Ellis said it is important to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday because he is the world representative of Tibetan Buddhism, living his life with compassion.
“Most of us are not in control of our minds,” Russ Ellis said. “We are reactionary instead of acting from the hearts. Most of us can’t stop ourselves from reacting, which is why we meditate. You’ve got to choose to cultivate your heart rather than your mind.”