Buddhism with a Brazilian touch

By Mauricio Savarese, Reuters Life!, Sep 10, 2007

TRES COROAS, Brazil -- The voices chanting the ancient Tibetan Buddhist mantras have a trace of a bossa nova lilt. Meditation sometimes has to wait until after a game of soccer.

High in the mountains of Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul state lies the Chagdud Gonpa Khadro Ling (Buddhist center) -- "the sacred place of the sky dancers" in Tibetan.

It is the only place in Latin America dedicated to the Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava, who established Tibetan Buddhism in the Himalayas in the 8th Century.

About 60 Brazilians and foreigners live in the community about five miles from the city of Tres Coroas, and thousands more visit each year.

For many of them, it is a peaceful alternative to the violence and stress of life in Brazil's big cities.

Among a magnificent complex of statues, temples and palaces, they pray at the beginning and end of each day for compassion and the well-being of mankind.

They also meditate for hours, or go off on retreats that can last months. Books, music and sports, especially soccer, are the entertainment but only after the daily routine is done.

The center -- in the world's largest Roman Catholic nation -- is dedicated to Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. It was founded by Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (1930-2002), who fell in love with Brazil after fleeing from occupied Tibet via the United States.

Tulku's Brazilian widow, Chagdud Khadro, who is also the spiritual director, said Brazilians' natural happiness and inclination toward faith weighed in the decision to set up the center here.

"Brazilians are more persistent and are very receptive when they connect to a master such as Rinpoche. In the United States there is more questioning of faith," she said.

"It is not that the Brazilians are less materialistic...but their basic nature is pure."


Other Khadro Ling residents lived in chaotic cities until they felt their connection to Buddhism.

Ana Paula Gouveia, 37, worked in photography, theater and cinema in Sao Paulo and studied abroad.

"I have tranquility here, it's much better than living on the edge in Sao Paulo," she said.

"I wanted to be a journalist first, because I wanted to change the world. That wasn't going to happen. Then I took arts, to reach out to more people. But when I saw the Rinpoche in Brazil, I felt this was it."

Brazilians sometimes find it difficult to recite the guttural Buddhist mantras and cannot match the Oriental tones, said artist Patricia Henna, 35.

"The soft singing voice is natural to Brazilians. The Tibetans sound different, they project their chest more, as in heavy metal. They also have many vibratos, which are those little scales of tones in the end of every phrase they sing. That is difficult to a voice that is not trained."

Eduardo Simoes, 40, arrived 11 years ago. While most people here are university graduates and speak English fluently, he was a mechanic in his former life.

The anger he used to feel before finding Buddhism had gone, he said.

"In the beginning my family disliked it. But after some time my mother, who is a Catholic, ended up visiting and asking for advice from the lamas. That happens with many non-Buddhists."

While much of Rio Grande do Sul exploded in raucous celebrations when local soccer team International beat Barcelona to win the World Club Championship last year, Simoes celebrated almost by himself.

"It was curious. I was happy here in front of the TV and there was all that silence."