A moving mandala: meditation in form of communal dance

Nearly 20 years ago, Prema Dasara, resident of Maui and a practicing Tibetan Buddhist, created a dance to illustrate one of the religion’s most important sadhanas (meditations). Giving a movement vocabulary to what was previously a sitting, chanting and meditative text, the “Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara” has spread to multiple countries and is practiced by women as an offering of peace, harmony and compassion — main tenants expressed in the original sadhana (religious text).

Kaua‘i resident, Eana Rose Graves, a practicing Tibetan Buddhist for over 30 years, was one of the first student teachers of Prema Desara and has advanced in the practice of the dance and leads classes on the Mainland and Canada as well as on Kaua‘i. Next weekend, Graves and 21 other women who dance the 21 Praises of Tara will be holding a workshop in Koke‘e as an offering to the beauty and preservation of the park. On Mother’s Day, the group will be practicing the dance, open to the entire Kaua‘i community to “witness and receive the blessings of what the dance offers,” said Graves.

The Buddha-goddess, Tara, is a central figure in the religion’s pantheon and is the inspiration of this “moving meditation.” While the Abrahamic religions identify with a male creator, Tara is considered one female “creatress” in Tibetan mythology. “Legends and myths of every culture praise She Who Brings Forth Life, She Who Is The Embodiment Of Wisdom, The Great Compassionate Mother, The Star Of Heaven. She has been called by many names, she has been revealed in many forms. Her worship continues to this day in ancient cultures of Asia, and in the 20th century search for the lost feminine,” states Taradhatu’s Web site.

“The Dance of the 21 Praises” takes the theoretical aspects of the goddess’ symbolism and creates a “very profound and affecting experience that is meant to give the participants the tools to deal with life’s complex situations,” said Graves. “I have practiced this dance through two decades and many stages of my life, marriage, motherhood, transitions from early womanhood into later life and it has been an incredible support along my own spiritual path, maturity and understanding,” she said.

Graves progressed through “levels of authority to teach something that happened naturally, without any real intention of mine,” she said, and now teaches the dance to other women interested in practicing.

The upcoming workshop in Koke‘e and subsequent performance on Mother’s Day is an offering to the ‘aina of Koke‘e, recently coming under threat, she explained. Graves hopes this is one more step to involve the community and introduce people to the “profound power and beauty of this practice,” she said. “We hope to support the pristine nature of Koke‘e and our organization will be making a donation to preserve Koke‘e.”

The dance has been supported by high positioned leaders in Tibetan Buddhism including the 14th Dalai Lama, Kalu Rinpoche and Tai Situ Rinpoche. Taking on the visual form of a moving mandala, the dance includes 22 dancers with unlimited number of additional “supporting dancers who form the edge or surround the main 22,” Graves explained.

The actual practicing of this “communal dharma” is non-denominational and requires no identification as a Buddhist to enjoy or experience it, explained Graves.

Grave’s said her favorite place to practice the dance is in nature. Her Kaua‘i group recently performed their moving mandala on land affected by the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam breach, “we were invited to offer this to the people and the land this incident hurt. It was very healing to the family and the property that is still devastated by the trauma,” she said.

Graves hopes her group will be able to do more community outreach and invites all to attend the Mother’s Day performance to be held in Kapahi.

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