A week of Buddhist prayer

Photograph: Nana Arbova

On a recent Wednesday morning, in the basement of the Parkdale United Church, about 85 Tibetan-Canadians assembled as part of a six-day-long prayer service. The men and women—mostly seniors—sat cross-legged on blue gym mats, facing monks dressed in orange and red robes. As the monks chanted, their low, monotone voices filled the room with a didgeridoo-like hum: It was a mantra for world peace, repeated 100,000 times.

Each day, 60 to 70 people dropped by the stiflingly hot room (there was just one fan) for portions of the service. In the kitchen at the back, women prepared lunch and served tea for the worshippers.

Parkdale, which has the densest Tibetan population in Canada, is a logical place for the Canadian Tibetan Association of Ontario (CTAO) to hold the annual ceremony, even if the basement of a Christian church was not. But the association’s usual venue, the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre in Etobicoke, is stalled in the middle of a $6.6-million renovation project. The centre received a $1 million gift from the Dalai Lama himself, and some government funding, but still needs another $700,000 to finish the job.

Parkdale United Church gave the CTAO a discount on the space rental ($150 instead of the regular $350 per day). “They are good people here,” said a volunteer named Karma, rolling a string of beads between his fingers. The group hopes that by December, its centre will be up and running again, attracting Tibetans from around the world. (Last year, the centre hosted the Dalai Lama.)

“Now, there is not much to see,” said Lhakpa Tsering, the centre’s manager. “In the future, I hope visitors won’t be disappointed.”

Tsawang Norbu, another volunteer, pointed out that the worship space doesn’t affect the service. “It is the mind [that matters],” he said, pointing to his temple. “It is the mind.”