Peace Pagoda gets new paint job

  • Bruce Tolda, top, and Phil Dowling paint the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Bruce Tolda, left, and Phil Dowling paint the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Bruce Tolda, left, and Phil Dowling paint the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/14/2020 1:50:51 PM

LEVERETT — In a year when the New England Peace Pagoda was set to hold a grand gathering for its 35th anniversary, its temple on Cave Hill Road is closed to the public due to COVID-19. But the pandemic did not stop a group of volunteers and monks from coming together to repaint the pagoda, as is typical every few years.

Over the weekend, around 30 volunteers took part in the Peace Pagoda’s repainting. Though participants practiced social distancing, the work nevertheless brought the community together, said Swan Keyes, a psychotherapist and racial justice educator whose father, Towbee Keyes, is a monk at the Peace Pagoda.

“It’s just really good to see people come together, and giving and sharing together,” Keyes said. “I think that’s always needed, but in times like this, with COVID, people are feeling very isolated, very alone and stressed over the political climate, and you see people here just enjoying the work.”

This idea is particularly needed during the time of a global pandemic and political polarization, she said.

The stupa itself is “a symbol of the peace that we all need to find within our own hearts,” and “a symbol of your awakening,” Keyes said. Speaking to the repainting, Keyes highlighted the importance of creating and maintaining a beautiful space where people can find refuge and inspiration.

Among the volunteers was Phil Dowling, a retired painting contractor who lives in Westhampton. Dowling has volunteered to repaint the Peace Pagoda four times over the decades. On Saturday, he was at work repainting the dome from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Some volunteers, such as Dowling, had professional experience as painters, but others simply showed up to help in any way they could. Several rock climbers brought their equipment to scale the pagoda as they worked, Keyes said.

All gatherings at the Peace Pagoda are interfaith, Keyes noted, and open to anyone who wants to “enjoy the peace of the land.” Although the temple is closed to the public at the moment, the grounds remain open, and Keyes said she has noticed more people coming to the pagoda to take walks with their families or silently meditate by the pond.

Dowling also spoke to the universal appeal of the pagoda.

“I think that especially in this day, in this time, everybody on this Earth could benefit from the concept of this peace, whatever that means to them,” Dowling said. “I think humanity is really facing a lot of trials and tribulations, and the Peace Pagoda and its intent ... to me, it is exactly what it says it is. It’s a symbol of peace.”

The bulk of the work was done on Saturday and involved repainting the Peace Pagoda’s dome, but some work remained to be done on the rails. The Peace Pagoda is also seeking volunteers for ongoing projects, such as a new walkway and a monument for Slow Turtle, who was the Supreme Medicine Man of the Wampanoag Nation and an important ally to the Buddhist community of Massachusetts, Keyes explained.

As Saturday’s work concluded, Dowling recalled watching the sun set over the newly painted pagoda as a “pretty magical” experience.

“The gold light of the sun was washing over the work we’d just completed, and the structure on the top of the Peace Pagoda was absolutely illuminated,” Dowling said. “We all just stood there for a few moments as the sun set, and it was a pretty nice feeling.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at


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