A Tibetan Lama came to my office last week to perform a blessing.
We gathered around the long table. Lama Kunga sat at one end; in front of him were peacock feathers in an ornate holder, a censer of incense, a bell, cards that were printed with Tibetan prayers, a Play-Doh container. The Play-Doh didn't look all that out of place, sporting the same saturated colors the Lama wore, clean and bright.
He gave us a little background about the ceremony, instructed us to hold "happy family thoughts" during the prayer. He put on his glasses, held the cards so he could read them, and began to chant. He would run out of breath as he reached the end of a card, drawing in while he flipped the cards over. He is an old man, but his voice is strong, thousands of lines appearing and disappearing on his face as he squints at the cards, wrinkles up his nose to adjust his glasses. The chant continued, and his breaths became heavier, he would draw in through his teeth, noisily; the hands holding the cards were the hands of a much younger man, small, unlined, smooth. He lifted a bell, ringing it at intervals, the chant winding down the table, out onto the street, into the afternoon.
The chant finished, he stood and handed one of my colleagues the censer, telling him to swing it back and forth, handing the peacock feathers to another. He led us like ducks through the office. The holder for the peacock feathers also held water, and he would pull out the feathers and splash a drop of water in each room, on each desk.
It was much like the blessing ceremonies led by Kumus in Hawai'i, the chant, the water, the duckling procession from room to room.
Afterward, he showed me the charcoal held in the Play-Doh can. For purification? I asked. He nodded, eyes wrinkling up with his smile.
I told him my ancestors, Native Americans, would burn sage for the same purpose. He nodded and pulled a stick of incense from a small box.
"Smell," he said.
It smelled like sage. He smiled again, gently, and told me to keep it.