PORT RICHEY — “Here, yak! Have you seen my yak?” asked the monk, who walked around the stage inside the Unity Truth Center’s sanctuary. He looked out into the audience, one hand at his forehead as he searched.
From the back door, a large, bouncing yak emerged.
“There he is!”
The exchange was part of a “Sacred Art Tour” performance by visiting Tibetan Buddhist monks called the “Yak Dance,” which celebrates the native bovine, related to cattle, and cherished in the mountainous Asian country for food, clothing and transportation. Yaks are intelligent, highly adaptable and easy to train and are considered “messengers of the Gods living in high places.”
Two monks inside a yak costume danced around the stage to the sound of drums and cymbals. The yak dance was one of several performances by visiting Tibetan monks as part of a cultural exchange to educate Americans about their sacred art and culture. Until recently, many of the dances, costumes, art, musical performances and meditative practices were not open to the public, even non-monk Tibetan.
As the yak pranced back down the aisle at the end of its dance, it paused to brush its horns against the hand of a little girl in the audience with her hand outstretched. She giggled.
Sue Simone, the U.S. tour coordinator for the Drepung Gomang Monastery, in India since the Dalai Lama and monks were exiled from Tibet, said the monks tour the states for most of the year, sharing their sacred traditions and fundraising for their monastery through art sales and donations. They move locations every seven to 10 days in the ancient nomadic tradition of their ancestors.
Spring Hill resident Simone has been coordinating the monks’ travel since 2007, after a former employer called to ask her to fill in for a sick coordinator.
“Now I’m stuck with these guys and it’s a real blessing,” Simone said.
Monday night’s “Cultural Pageant” at the Port Richey center was part of a line-up of events throughout Pasco County. Other events included dinner with the monks, a mandala sand painting and meditation.
The sand mandala can be viewed for the last time on Jan. 25 at the center, located at 5844 Pine Hill Rd. , before it is committed back to the Earth starting at 12:30 p.m. The next morning, the monks will hold prayers at the Sunday service starting at 10:30 a.m. before moving on to Wesley Chapel for chanting prayers 4-5 p.m. at the Drong Ngur Jangchubling Buddhist Center, 30520 Lynne Drive.
The Rev. Barbara Williams, the Unity Truth Center pastor, was thrilled to welcome the monks for this leg of their tour.
“It fits with Unity in that we celebrate all paths to God,” Williams said. “For it to fall on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday makes it even more special.”
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