World Healing Gathering at Xats'ull
by Mary Cosman
By the kitchen campfire I asked one of the aunties how to pronounce the name of her village, Xats'ull. Her reply, the first syllable a gentle hiss and the second swallowed, was a beautiful sound far different than my own effort to say it! The heritage village of the Xats'ull (Soda Creek) Reserve, the northernmost band of the Shuswap Nation, stretches across a grassy bench above the roiling Fraser River. Xats'ull means "on a cliff where the bubbling water comes from." Their modern homes are nearby, but out of sight. The site has tipis, sweat lodge frames, food storage and drying racks, and a really cool earthen dwelling I could easily imagine spending a cozy winter in.
Edward, Guy and I arrived on the first day of the six-day world healing ceremonies organized by the Spirit Dance Community, a Willliams Lake-based group. This group, upwards of 30 people, is striving to establish a demonstration eco-community in the Cariboo, a sacred space where people can come for healing and learning. Working with the Xats'ull Heritage Village committee and Reserve members, the Spirit Dance folks provided hot meals for participants and guests - including freshly caught salmon, arranged and paid for the visiting teachers' travel, rented kitchen and meeting shelters, and worked tirelessly to make this event happen.
A quarter-mile walk to the site from the parking area helped us leave our everyday world behind and settle our minds into the purpose of the gathering. The reality of being at a site where village life has been going on for a few thousand years - how lightly the people have lived on this land! - was awe-inspiring. The weather was very hot, although a brief thunder shower on Thursday helped.
Alongside the large tipis a small tent was set up for the sand mandala ceremony. Lama Tsering Tsundu, a resident of Courtenay and a contributing teacher at Kathog Gonpa, vey generously agreed to come on only a week's notice, when the monks originally invited were unable to obtain visas. With the assistance of another Tibetan visiting in BC, Lama Kalzang, Lama Tsundu completed a simple but powerful Green Tara Mandala.
Tibetan monks skilled in this art have been offering sand mandala ceremonies throughout the west as what I think is one of the most precious benefits of the Tibetan diaspora. A few years ago I had the opportunity to spend some hours watching a single monk create a large and intricate mandala over the space of three weeks in a California art museum. If you have the opportunity to be present at a sand-mandala creation, don't pass it up! The mandala is recognized as pure expression of the deity who resides in it, as well as of the Buddha's enlightened mind. Each grain of sand used is charged with the blessings of the ritual; the entire mandala embodies a vast store of spiritual energy. Viewing the mandala generates feelings of peace and its creation works toward reducing tension and violence in the world. Throughout the week people would come to sit by the mandala being constructed from the centre out and ask questions and chat with the lamas, who worked with calm alacrity in the heat in order to have it completed by Sunday.
Geshe Gendun Yonten, who now lives in Germany, visited Spirit Dance Community last fall to begin a cultural and spiritual exchange between Tibetans and the Shuswap, Carrier and Chilcotin First Nations people. Returning this summer, Geshe-la gave a few impromptu teachings for all as well as private talks with individuals during the six-day event.
A very important part of the healing focus of the gathering was the presence of Lobsang Nima Rinpoche, with his translator Rinzin Dorje. Rinpoche gave private healings and teachings all week long, as well as a Phowa teaching and two public lectures in Williams Lake. It was a moving sight - and a good photo op - to see Rinpoche in his red and gold robes chatting casually in front of the great white tipi the monks were staying in!
On Wednesday evening, Many Horses, a Wetsuwetin healer form the Smithers area, gave a long talk, efortlessly leading us through his memories and experiences of learning to work from the truth in his heart, learning to open up to his compassion. He echoed very closely the same ideas Geshe Yonten was relating to us in his dharma talk a few hours before.
And so it went, with large prayer circles before meals where spiritual leaders from the host and guest First Nations groups offered thanks, and the lamas recited tsog prayers, to evenings of native dancing, drumming and chanting, including a riotous friendship dance everyone participated in - at least a hundred of us! - and the mandala slowly blossoming beneath the white tent. People came and went all week, a gathering of healthcare professionals, Buddhist practitioners, resident natives, healers, farmers, tourists.....
We had to leave on Thursday, but I returned on Sunday for the dispersal ceremony. After a short talk by Grandmother Sara, an Elder visiting from Ontario, Lama Tsundu recited from his texts and ritually gathered up the sands of the mandala. He offered a tiny bit of sand to each person present who cared to take some home, and then set off at the head of a loud and festive procession down to the river. The ritual dispersal of the sand released the special blessing of the mandala into the water cycle, and spread the blessings to all beings as the Fraser carried it off to the ocean.
This was a remarkable gathering, and one which will be repeated, I'm sure. The serenity of the ancient site matched the minds of those who came together to learn from each other and celebrate our commitment to help, to heal, in whatever ways we can.