Tibetan Monks offer healing chants at HopeWell Cancer Support - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Tibetan Monks offer healing chants at HopeWell Cancer Support

Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery offered healing chants at HopeWell Cancer Support in Lutherville, Maryland (Anthony C. Hayes)

Health is the greatest gift,
contentment the greatest wealth,
faithfulness the best relationship.


Siddhartha Gautama, the Iron Age ascetic commonly know worldwide as Buddha, believed that balance in life was the best way to attain enlightenment. Buddha’s words about health, contentment, and faithfulness still ring true today and underline the mission of HopeWell Cancer Support.

HopeWell has long offered its participants an array of programs for dealing with cancer, recognizing that those affected by the disease need more than just medical care. It is in this vein that HopeWell joined with friends from Baltimore Yoga Village this past Wednesday night to invoke divine healing, by hosting a group of Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery in India.

The ninety-minute service, which was primarily comprised of three extended chanting sessions, drew an estimated one hundred people to the cozy barn at HopeWell’s Lutherville campus. The chant sessions were punctuated by question and answer periods which were dutifully translated by one of the visiting monks.

Monks in the great assembly hall at Drepung Monastery. (Wikimedia)

The Tibetan Monks are currently on a tour of the eastern United States. Their state-side mission is to teach others about their culture and beliefs and to send money back to their monastery in India.

There are five different sects of Buddhists in Tibet. As members of Gelugpa (The Virtuous School), the Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery follow the teachings of H.H. The Dalai Lama.

After a welcome of the eight visiting monks by Pamela Tanton of HopeWell Cancer Support and Anjali Sunita of Baltimore Yoga Village, the interpreter monk explained that the prayers for the evening would include blessings for health.

“We ask in these prayers: Please help those who are suffering”.

Seated on pillows with their legs crossed and an assortment of instruments within arm’s reach, the solemn octette – dressed in the traditional crimson and gold-colored robes of the Tibetan sect – opened their invocation with three soft gongs and a series of low murmurs. The murmurs were quickly followed by a rising chorus – accentuated intermittently by modal shifts and tones best described as in-between notes wholly unfamiliar to the Western ear.

Even in the relatively cool confines of the HopeWell barn, the monks perspired in fervent prayer. Their mesmeric chants continued unabated for 15-20 minutes at a time.

The final chant implored the spirit of the Buddha to see people who are suffering and in need of help. The chants, we were told, are designed to open the heart and mind.

Concluding the service, our interpreter monk thanked the mostly attentive crowd which had gathered for the evening.

Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery offered healing chants at HopeWell Cancer Support in Lutherville, Maryland (Anthony C. Hayes)

A Tibetan Monk of the Drepung Gomang Monastery in India sits in silent contemplation. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“Great karma comes from when people come together in unity,” the monk explained.

Pamela Tanton told the Baltimore Post-Examiner she was pleased to partner with the Baltimore Yoga Village for the unique event.

“I teach qigong on Friday mornings at Baltimore Yoga Village in Mount Washington so that’s how I am connected to Anjali. When she knew they were going to come to Baltimore, she put the word out to people asking if they’d be interested in having the monks do a program. She’s kind of in charge of figuring out their schedule the whole time they’re here.

“This was something we thought was compatible with what we do here at HopeWell. The monks do this chanting which gets you into a very meditative state. It was just something we believed our population would really enjoy.”

Tanton noted that, while this was the fourth time the monks have called on Baltimore, it was their first visit to HopeWell Cancer Support.

“Normally, everything we do is no charge, but we did ask if people wanted to make a donation tonight to help the monks, and because of the partnership with Baltimore Yoga Village. The donations we received are greatly appreciated.

“We had almost one hundred people attend tonight, a number of whom are in our program. Everyone here is called a participant. No one is a patient. HopeWell is for people who have had a cancer diagnosis and their loved ones as well. At any stage of the cancer journey, participants can come to offer hope to people who are just starting out and give advice on getting treatment. Even if they’re feeling terrific and have been here for ten years. It’s for any type of cancer, and there is absolutely no charge.

Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery offered healing chants at HopeWell Cancer Support in Lutherville, Maryland (Anthony C. Hayes)

“We have mind, body, spirit classes, plus a lot of education with oncologists who come in to share. We also have programs for children who have parents with cancer or have a parent who has died. It’s called Kids Circle and Kids Grieve, and it’s very helpful to them. A lot of times, kids don’t say what’s on their mind in front of their parents. But when they come here and are playing with other kids, or speaking freely with a facilitator, the parents can learn what the child is going through.”

Cancer survivor Elsie Fergusson told us she has been coming to Hopewell for over 10 years.

“Well, the people who work here at Hopewell are marvelous. Tonight’s program was very interesting. I wish I knew more. I don’t have any sort of background in Buddhism, so I will be doing some reading on the subject. It was very colorful and surprisingly enough, I felt like I could understand some things.”

Roberta – another attendee who, like the monks, sat cross-legged on a pillow for most of the evening – echoed Elsie’s observations, and offered two thoughts of her own.

“I was raised Roman Catholic, so for me, hearing the monks this evening reminded me of Gregorian chants. I was also reminded that there is one God and one human race.”

Editor’s note: This is the fifteenth part of an ongoing series which will look at the places and people that make up the rich history and diverse nature of spirituality, belief, and observance in Baltimore and beyond. Read the series here.

About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony's poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, "Thou shalt not steal." Contact the author.

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