ARLEE – Formal dancing, philosophical debates and Buddhist culture go on public display Sunday when the Ewan Garden of 1,000 Buddhas begins its annual Tibetan Cultural Festival in Arlee.

“We just placed the final Buddha statue and stupa yesterday,” Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche said through translator Sarah Plazas on Friday. “So part of the festival is to celebrate completing all that work. And it is the month of Saka Dawa, which is the holiest time of the Buddhist year.”

The festival runs from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Garden of 1000 Buddhas, just north of Arlee on White Coyote Road. It begins with a ceremonial procession, chanting and music, followed by a Tibetan snow lion dance.

Another dance group will perform the Dakini dance, which depicts five cardinal virtues of spiritual mindfulness. Dancer Beth Lee-Herbert said the precise and traditional moves of the dance are intended to bring blessings to the audience.

“It puts you in a state where you’re acting out something for everybody watching,” Lee-Herbert said. “It’s like active meditation.”

Festival organizer Deborah Hicks said the debate portion of the festival would give the audience a chance to see how advanced Buddhist practitioners refine their understandings.

“It’s like a Socratic dialogue,” Hicks said, referring to the Greek philosophical question-and-answer tradition. “When monks and nuns train in the dharma – the scriptures of the Buddha’s teaching – they study for many years. At higher learning levels, they have to question and turn every teaching inside out to understand the depth of its meaning. It’s serious, but it looks playful. And it really helps to uncover the deeper points.”

The public is welcome to watch and photograph the activities, Hicks said. Admission is $15 per car. Gifts and some refreshments will be available for sale.

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