27 March 2011

A Day with Tibetan Monks

About a month ago, a local church hosted a group of monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in India. The monks, exiled from Tibet, are on a tour to help raise funds for the monastery by sharing information about their faith and Tibetan culture and traditions. I visited when a friend's art gallery hosted the monks in the past, where they created one of their spectacular mandalas. On this tour, the monks did that at some locations, but at the church they answered questions and held workshops where we could make prayer flags, create our own mandala designs, and otherwise gain a deeper understanding of their faith. The afternoon began with a soup lunch that was very good. The same dough was used to make dumplings in the soup and rolls on the side. The monks cooked it for us as part of their ministry. Then we had opening ceremony and Q&A, while the main room was set up for projects. When we went back, we could learn how to use the tools to make sand mandalas: You scoop sand into the metal cones and rub one against another to control the flow. While some of the designs we tried were traditional, we mostly went free-form. This is the part of a mandala that I made, with people working on their designs in other areas:

These mandalas are on very non-traditional brown paper, so to make the cleanup easier when it is time to return the sand to the earth. Usually they put it into a moving body of water, but there was no stream or river near enough to the church. You'll see the ceremony further down.

We also made prayer flags that were strung around the room. The monks would help us with designs and names if we asked, but most people did free-form ones.

The lady in white was one of the organizers of the event. These are mine:

You could buy a string of preprinted prayer flags and many other items, such as bags (of course I did!) and prayer beads. If you bought beads, the head monk would bless them and you:

At the end of the afternoon, we danced (something a local group does, begun in the 1960's, and not a Tibetan Buddism activity, but the monks were very nice about participating) and then the monks conducted a thank-you ceremony and the closing prayers:

They swept up the sand and we followed them outside where they prayed that the energy in the sand would help to heal the world:

I found a couple other writeups of the day, including one that has me in the background of one of his photos.

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