Tibetan monks’ visit offers perspective on impermanence


By Tonya Burton 

The Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Loseling monastery of India are one of the most popular multi-media touring groups in the United States.

They have shared the stage with musicians Paul Simon, Cheryl Crowe, Michael Stipe, Patti Smith, the Beastie Boys, Natalie Merchant and many others. They have recorded two CDs that have achieved top ten listing on U.S. and Canadian music charts. And their art has been featured across the country from universities to the Field Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

Fame means nothing to these monks. In fact, if you compliment them too earnestly, they will likely smile and walk away. But if you ask them about the impermanence of life, they will talk with you for several minutes.

At least, the head lama, Gala Rinpoche will. He is the one who speaks English and has been given the title Rinpoche, which literally means “precious one,” a title of great significance and one bestowed after final approval from the Dalai Lama.

On Oct. 19 and 20, Indianapolis enjoyed a rare chance to view the monks’ art and music at the Body, Mind and Spirit expo at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

During the short time the monks were here, they created and destroyed an intricate White Tara mandala sand painting.

“There are thousands (of mandala deisgns), but these (monks) have spent 5 to 7 years to learn about twenty five,” Gala Rinpoche said.

The two-day expo opened with a ceremony of chanting, music and mantra recitation. During the sacred ritual each chant master sings three notes simultaneously by manipulating the pharynx and larynx to produce the unique sounds, essentially singing his own three-part harmony.

The monks then drew a precise geometric shape as the basis of the mandala on a 4’ by 4’ flat table top, a process that took about three hours to complete. Then they layered intricate patterns by pouring colored sand from metal funnels. By running a metal rod on the grated surface, a vibration caused the sand to flow like liquid.

At the closing ceremony, the completed mandala was wiped away. Half of the sand was distributed to the audience for personal health and healing and the other half was to be carried to a flowing body of water and ceremonially poured, thereby dispersing the energies of the mandala throughout the world.

According to the Drepung Loseling monastery, the Mystical Arts tours serve three basic purposes: to make a contribution to world peace and healing through sacred art; to generate a greater awareness of the endangered Tibetan civilization; and to raise support for the Tibetan refugee community in India.

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