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By Chris Oliver
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Chris Oliver
In the cool green interior of the Buddhist Gallery at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the torso of Lokeshvara, Lord of the Universe, receives the full attention of the earthbound.
Dating to 12th-century Cambodia, this bodhisattva, "the embodiment of compassion and benevolence," looks out for his fellow man in an unusual way. Within the pores of his "skin" are carved perfect miniature bodhisattvas facing out in every direction.
Members of the academy's Sunday Tour and Tea listen attentively as docent Cathy Levinson explains the difference between a buddha and a bodhisattva (the former has reached nirvana; the latter chooses to remain on earth to help others along the path to enlightenment).
It's just one aspect of Levinson's presentation in this popular tour that invites visitors to explore a particular aspect of the academy's collection and then socialize over iced tea and cookies.
Topics change each week. "Docents like doing this tour because we get the chance to choose the title," said Levinson. "And we know that folks who sign up are here because the topic interests them. (Visitors) are always going to learn something new."
Within the Buddhist Gallery, Levinson's "The Bodhisattva of Compassion" tour travels from India through China, Korea, Japan and Cambodia on a one-hour journey of discovery that winds up in the academy's cafe with a friendly discussion.
"Art can be intimidating for some people," said docent Hannelore Herbig, who began the tours three years ago and coordinates the twice-weekly event. "The Tour and Tea encourages visitors to explore the galleries, and we want to make it comfortable for them by providing a friendly atmosphere. Many people come each week and make this a social event."
As the group lingers over tea in the cafe, the discussion moves to the upcoming Anna Rice Cooke exhibition scheduled for March 2007. Levinson reminds the group of the tours' powerful connection with the academy's founder.
"This is just what Anna Rice Cooke did in her lifetime — invite people, including children, to her home (on this site) in the afternoons, when she would serve tea and cookies and show them her beautiful art treasures. You could say we're just carrying on that tradition," Levinson said.
Reach Chris Oliver at email@example.com.