Little Sands monastic academy holding open house today

Steve Sharratt comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 28, 2015

LITTLE SANDS — Vincent used paint, Hank used music, Milton used words and Buddhists use butter.

In fact, enough butter to bake thousands of biscuits.

But instead of biscuits, the butter is turned into amazing works of art that will be on public display for the very first time today when the monastic academy opens its doors to the public.

“We want people to get to know us and to see how we live and what we do,” said Venerable Dan, dressed in the red traditional warm winter garb of a monk. “I think people will find it interesting.”

The snow blowers are working around the clock here to clear the lanes and create enough parking spaces for expected visitors after a generous winter dumped endless amounts of white stuff across the landscape.

The Buddhists, who arrived on the Island about seven years ago, have expanded to the Little Sands site where about a dozen buildings act as living quarters, administration and study and prayer halls. The monastery is four kilometres east of the Wood Islands ferry terminal on the Shore Road and the road is clear from drifts.

From the outside, the $10 million academy features modern block style construction and certainly doesn’t look out of the ordinary. But once you enter the Prayer Hall, it’s like another world.

Shoes are removed to walk into the giant space where monks worship and supplicate before the gold-plated shrine. There are plenty of windows for natural light and a wood floor with prayer kneels are everywhere to accommodate hundreds of monks.

There are flowers, gongs and beads throughout, and the faint scent of incense fills the quiet and orderly room.

One of the most favoured displays is the work of the young monks who begin training as early as 11 or 12.

The colossal work is housed in a huge glass-covered cabinet in the Prayer Hall. The relief designs feature beautiful colours depicting the many adventures of Buddha before finding enlightenment.

“Can you guess what this made of?” asks Venerable Dan with a curious smile while giving a tour to The Guardian.

The creations look similar to the beautiful Jianzhi style of Chinese paper cuttings the monks created as a tribute to their neighbour Lorne Panting, who operated a garage and towing service just down the road.

Panting died late last year and, as a tribute, the monks arrived and set up a memorial board in the rural gas station with delicate paper-cut flowers and testimonials of appreciation to his knowledge and friendship upon their arrival.

But while the designs look like paper, Venerable Dan offers up a delightful smile knowing he has stumped his guest.

“They are all made from butter,’’ he says with eyes brightening. “It is part of the program for young monks.”

You can’t help but move closer to view the design and colours of the amazing creations made from something usually spread on toast. Venerable Dan explains the display will be one of the highlights for the public when the scademy hosts the Spring Fling today.

There will be three sessions during the day and guests are asked to phone the monastery at 902-969-9798 to ensure a comfortable visit.

“We have much snow to contend with and want to ensure our guests are not overcrowded or have difficulty reaching us because of the turnout,’’ says Venerable Dan.

Since arriving in 2008, the Buddhists have created a spectre of change and the cultural differences between the visitors from Taiwan have created both intrigue and suspicion among Islanders.

Many welcome the Buddhists — who believe all life is sacred — and the local supermarkets in Montague stock plenty of vegetables and condiments for Chinese cooking and kimchi.

The group has purchased extensive farmland and is undertaking efforts to contract out organic farming options in the region. They purchased the former Buffalo land provincial park in Milltown Cross from the government and look after the animals and offer public visits.

It’s been an adjustment to drive on Island roads in winter but the monks have gained considerable experience and visits to the ditches, while avoiding raccoons, are way down, say volunteers.

“We are not here to take advantage of this Island, we are here to introduce some of our successful experiences and see if we can do some contributions,’’ said Venerable Frank during one of the first Buddhist public sessions in Montague.

“We believe the world will face death by hunger, death by poison or death by war,’’ he said. “To resolve this, our Master says to promote organic farming. We must heal the mind and heal the land.”

The group espouses efforts to relieve poverty, preserve land, provide welfare and education programs, promote peace and diversity in all cultures and religions, and protect animals. All life is respected in Buddhist society and swatting the dreaded mosquito is even taboo.

There are plans to expand the monastery and land holdings which are funded through donations to the foundation.

 

There will be three sessions during today’s open house and guests are asked to phone the monastery at 902 969 9798 to ensure a comfortable visit.