Buddhist vigil honors tsunami victims

Yalies braved the howling winds Saturday night to commemorate the Sri Lankan tsunami disaster in an oasis of warmth, candlelight and peace in Battell Chapel.

Indigo Blue, the center for Buddhist life at Yale, held an all-night vigil, lasting through Sunday morning, both to honor victims of the tsunami and to remember those who survived. While monks chanted at the altar, members of the Yale community removed their shoes and found a place either sitting cross-legged on floor pillows or settling into the front pews.

The service, a traditional Buddhist ceremony called a pirith, was a pan-Buddhist event with participants from both the Theravada and Mahayana schools of thought, who came together from all over the Northeast as a sign of solidarity.

Nilakshi Parndigamage ’06, a native of Sri Lanka who proposed the event, said the pirith is not just a memorial service, but can be used both after a tragedy to honor those who suffered or before a joyous event in order to invoke blessings.

“It is the most soothing thing,” Parndigamage said. “We are all coming together to remember all that has happened.”

She emphasized that the ceremony is not just about honoring those who have died.

“We also recognize those who have survived and all who have been touched by the tragedy,” she said.

Parndigamage said the community has been supportive of tsunami-related events, including the vigil.

“Masters and deans have been very generous and warm,” she said. “Some of them even opened their guest suites to the visiting monks.”

After the event concluded Sunday morning, Pierson College Master Harvey Goldblatt hosted a breakfast at his house for participants.

The pirith marked the first large-scale event hosted by Indigo Blue.

“Our doors are open to everyone,” Parndigamage said. “We are a community. We like to say that no one is a Buddhist, everyone is a Buddhist.”

During the service, one of the monks spoke briefly about the community of Buddhism, saying Buddhist teaching is based on “staying away from evil, doing good and finding purity of mind.”

In addition to commemorating a specific event, the pirith is also a ceremony of protection and blessing for participants. At the end of the service early Sunday morning, attendees ascended the altar and knelt silently while a monk tied a white cord around their wrists and blessed them with, “May you be well and happy.”

James Pease ’07, a member of Indigo Blue, said the string is a symbol of connectedness.

“It helps you remember your vigil beyond the night itself,” he said.

Pease said he thought the event was a success despite the weekend snowstorm that kept some participants and monks from attending.

“The plan was to have a vigil of remembrance, and we had that,” he said.

Parndigamage said the pirith provides a different type of support for the crisis than other efforts including monetary donations.

“This is different,” she said. “It is a show of solidarity — for us and for everyone.”

Students braved the snow storm to gather in Battell Chapel on Saturday evening and participate in an all-night Buddhist vigil for victims of the December tsunami. The vigil was organized by Indigo Blue, the center for Buddhist life at Yale.
Alex L.White
Students braved the snow storm to gather in Battell Chapel on Saturday evening and participate in an all-night Buddhist vigil for victims of the December tsunami. The vigil was organized by Indigo Blue, the center for Buddhist life at Yale.

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