Mandalas come to life as Tools for Peace in San Francisco

Our publisher reports on the ceremony at Grace Cathedral starring kd lang, mandalas, and a whole lot of good people.

Jim Gimian
27 September 2009
Tools for Peace Sand Mandala

Hallelujah! That’s what came into my mind when 11 year old Amanda stood in front of a packed house at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to talk about how Tools for Peace had taught her how to control her anger. Then Hallelujah! again when she went on to talk about boundless joy in ways that were ordinary and genuine.

Jamie Price and the folks at Tools for Peace have done a rather unusual thing: they’ve taken the seemingly esoteric aspects of mandala principle as they’re taught in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and made the principles both understandable and practically helpful for people who don’t necessarily have an interest in Buddhism per se. In fact, some of these people are middle school teachers and administrators for whom religion in the schools is a non-starter, but who have embraced the way the Tools for Peace curriculum actually helps them fulfill their mandate: educate and help nurture young people who live in challenging environments not always so supportive. So when Amanda’s young friend, an 11 year old boy, talked about how he learned how to not react in his habitual way with anger and aggression but rather now knew how to “Stop, Breathe, and Think,” I could hear the collected voices of teachers everywhere singing out, Hallelujah.

Grace Cathedral was the perfect setting for this event. The “house for prayer for all people” sitting atop Nob Hill, Grace is a SF institution which has long brought together people of all faiths in a greater human endeavor of joining action and spiritual endeavor. I was sitting next to a woman who hadn’t been there since the Vietnam War protest rallies in the late ‘60s, which is when I’d last been there too. We were all graciously invited by Marc Andrus, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California, who shared his own inspiration at watching the middle school children produce beautiful sand mandalas in the cathedral working closely with four monks brought in from Nepal by the inspiration behind the whole Tools for Peace, the Venerable Lama Chödak Gyatso Nubpa.

An inspiring event and an inspiring project. I’ll be following Tools for Peace as they develop their program further, and I look forward to more testimonies about the four brahmaviharas in plain language by middle-school kids who will be the first in their families to go to college.

Oh yeah, did I mention that another highlight of the evening was a half hour concert by kd lang, treating an adoring crowd with a short list of favorites ringing out in this incredible cathedral, just her, a wonderful young piano player and then the two of them joined on the last two songs by the cathedral organist. kd is totally devoted to Tools for Peace, so much that she cooks at the summer camp they hold for 50 kids every summer. But last night she did what she does so beautifully, filling hearts with love and joy with her voice and sharing her own heart through her music. She ended with a great Leonard Cohen tune that brought tears to many of those sitting around me in the church pews. And that tune summed up the evening. Hallelujah.

See flickr user dragonflypath’s’ great photos from the event here.

More photos by hagsweet, here.