Magnolia Grove Open House

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Guests at Sunday’s open house at Magnolia Grove Monastery enjoy the view from the lotus pond bridge. The monastery is located in southwest Panola County in the Red Hill community. See additional photos on page A11. The Panolian photo by John Howell Sr.

Hosts mindful to offer hospitality to Sunday visitors at monastery

By John Howell Sr.

Guests who attended the open house at Magnolia Grove Monastery Sunday afternoon were treated to a vegan buffet under great oak trees instead of the namesake evergreen.

Gentle breezes combined with the deep shade to provide perfect picnic weather for the 50 or more guests who responded to invitation to visit the facility on Towles Road. Guests from Batesville, Sardis and Como joined others from Clarksdale, Oxford and Memphis, among other locales.

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The open house guests were ushered into the monastery’s large meditation hall for a slide show that included a short history of how the Vietnamese Buddhists came to rural Panola County. The land was purchased over ten years ago, Sister Dang Ngheim (“Sister D”) said. It was first used as a weekend retreat while monks and lay “friends” built structures there. Those structures now include the house which was originally on the land, now converted as living quarters for lay women visitors.

A residence hall for monks and guests, which can house 120, has been completed along with a residence hall for nuns which includes a smaller meditation hall.

Most recently completed were restroom and shower facilities for use when large numbers of guests visit, Sister D said.

About 30 monks and nuns have now made the monastery their full-time home for the last 15 months, Sister D said. Guests from across the country regularly join them for retreats of duration from several hours to weeks.

Sister D, joined by Sister Boi Ngheim, explained the daily schedules that Magnolia Monastery residents observe, including the “mindfulness bell” which, when rung in intervals during the day, reminds residents and guests to stop what they are doing and take at least three deep breaths “to bring us back into the present moment,” one sister said.

Guests were then ushered to the outside buffet line offering egg rolls, barbecued shish kabobs that included wheat sausages, cabbage salad on a crunchy, edible wrapper, macaroni salad, potato salad and a dessert “made by the children,” Sister Boi Ngheim said, from Oreo cookies mixed with cream cheese. “The food is cooked with love and mindfulness,” she added.

Sister Boi Ngheim described the concept of “mindfulness” during in an April interview for a story in the Batesville Magazine.

“In this practice what we try to do is live each moment with awareness and really enjoy the moment,” she said. “Because sometimes we have the tendency that we are here but we (are) thinking about other things.”

In addition to enjoying the moment of eating the food prepared for the event, guests and monastics enjoyed moments of intense volleyball competition or contemplative thought while standing on the walkway over the meditation pond where lotus were in bloom.

Later, as youngsters roamed through the grounds and buildings enjoying their own moments, the large mindfulness bell in the meditation hall was struck with such frequency that the usual practice of stopping for deep breathing was ignored, having been replaced by laughter.