Every summer Torino Ranch hosts approximately a dozen Buddhist monks for a period of two to three weeks during a portion of the summer program. The monks residing in Dharamshala, India, live in exile from their homeland in Tibet. These amazingly accomplished individuals and scholars, who are chosen from approximately 4,000 of their peers, represent to the general public the mission of Buddhism and the wishes and desires of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Twenty years ago the Drepung Loseling Monastery was established on the campus of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, as an administrative arm for the practices that His Holiness identifies with.
Each year a group of Buddhist monks come to the U.S. During their year here, they crisscross the country, driving as many as 100,000 miles to speak at universities and other large gatherings about the Tibetan culture.
“My relationship with the monks and Buddhism began approximately 12 years ago,” says Brett Torino. “I have been blessed to spend personal time with His Holiness. I was profoundly affected by the kindness, compassion, and empathy this man has for all living things, including the planet we live on.”
“Buddhism is spiritual in nature. It is not a religion, nor do the monks ever in any way try to influence anyone in their travels to be a part of their mission. They are kind, pure, and gentle human beings.”
Brett says the monks’ interaction with the children, counselors, volunteers, and support staff at the ranch is an act of spreading joy, optimism, humor and entertainment for the benefit of all.
The mornings at Torino Ranch capture the beauty and uniqueness of the mountain spirit. It’s not uncommon to see several dozen individuals join the monks in a morning meditation session.
During the course of the day the monks may join the children and young adults to play soccer, bocce ball, archery, and other activities. Often they will host a Question and Answer session with all individuals to discuss their lives.
Buddhist monks perform several sacred practices that take years of discipline and training to perfect. One of these is the Snow Lion Dance. The Snow Lion is a mythical animal, whose fearlessness represents Tibet and its desire to be free, as well as the eloquent quality of an enlightened mind.
Occasionally the monks will construct a sand Mandala. The intricate design takes several days to create and once it is finished there is a ceremony to dismantle it, which provides a great lesson in impermanence and not being attached to material things.
Every evening at dusk the monks chant, which is their way of conveying a very sacred practice of administering blessings to all. According to Brett “The voices of these gentlemen are woven together to create a fabric of rich and intoxicating melodies." One of these prayers is known as the tea ceremony.
“It is supposed to open our minds and hearts to receive goodness,” says Brett. “The Buddhists say when your heart and mind are open to receiving goodness, the blessings begin to overflow. In that state of mind, you can make a wish, invoking the Dharma guardians to grant it if your intentions are pure. The meditation is about stripping away the ego, embracing a mindset of cherishing oneself and sacrificing for the benefit of everyone. It takes you to such a pure level of consciousness.”
Brett says having the monks at the ranch is a blessing for everyone. “The campers, counselors, kids, and all individuals love the monks, and equally important the ranch reminds the monks of their homeland. At the ranch they feel the spirit of love that is present.”
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