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Tibet Comes to Berea

With their canary yellow head ornaments and maroon robes, the Tibetan monks approached the stage and shared their sacred art and traditions with the Berea College campus. Check out photos from the monks' visit in our photo gallery.

Students were invited to work on their own sand mandala.

Coming from the Drepung Loseling monastery in India after they were cast from their home country of Tibet, the monks are fighting to preserve their dying culture by spreading awareness and using donations to pay for others displaced by the Tibet/China conflict. Their monastery houses 2,500 monks, many of which are refugees, a sizeable increase from the original 250. The monastery is also closely linked to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

The monks work to preserve their culture by sharing it with mainly the western world. Part of their tradition that they shared with the Berea community was the religious practice of creating a mandala. The mandala, specifically the one done at Berea College is called "dul-tson-kyil-khor," which means “mandala of colored powders.” The creation of the artwork is a tradition from Tantric Buddhism and makes unique and beautiful art laden with geometric shaped, vivid colors, and ancient spiritual symbols representing the earth and all inhabitants and is thought to be healing. Over a period of days or weeks, the millions of grains of sand are painstakingly placed onto the platform grain by grain. First the outline is drawn and sand is placed using a chak-pur, which are ridged metal funnels held in one hand while the other hand holds a metal rod that runs along the ridges of the funnel. The vibrations cause the sand to flow gently out of the end.

The students had their own mandala in progress while the monks worked with their own. The monks held an informational session teaching the students how to use the chak-purs and how to make a mandala, working from the inside out. The students worked laboriously, piecing in the sand using tools that they had never seen to make a piece of art that they have never created. The community worked together diligently to make a wonderful mandala with the cross set in the center and flanked by two fish.

As the week progressed, the monks continued the labor on their wonderful and intricate art, taking a break for the convocation where they displayed other aspects of their culture. They danced in elaborate costumes to please the good spirits and to frighten away the bad spirits. They spoke of healing and peace emphasizing their point with the dance of the snow lion. The “lion” danced in with its large eyes and used the sheer spirit of the monks dancing under the costume to send the audience into gales of laughter and put a smile on every audience members’ face.

As the week came to an end, it was time for the mandala ceremony. The monks spoke of the impermanence of the world and called for world healing. Then they began to gather up the grains of sand of the mandala and a gave a little bit to each audience member for their own personal healing. After arriving at Anglin Falls, they held another ceremony as they poured the sand into the creek, signifying the interconnectivity of the world because the sand would travel with the flowing water, and all the lands in the world are connected by water.

As they packed to leave, the monks were asked what words they would like to leave behind for others. One monk responded, “There are two things that are the most important in life; while we are sharpening our minds, at the same time it is very important to pay attention to developing good human qualities which come from the heart. So I think balancing the mind and the heart is something that is very important.”

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