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April 13, 2009
A group of Tibetan monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in southwest India will visit the Northwest campus Monday, April 20, through Friday, April 24, for a series of events, including construction an ornate sand-painted mandala in the Gov. Mel Carnahan Reading Room on the second floor of the J.W. Jones Student Union.
A mandala -- the Sanskrit word for circle -- is a complex concentric image signifying the completion or essence of all things. The symbol has had spiritual and ritual significance in both Buddhism and Hinduism for centuries. Sand mandalas, known in Tibet as dul-tson-kyil-khor ("mandala of colored powders"), are highly detailed and take several days to construct. They are considered by the monks and other followers of Tibetan Buddhism to be vehicles for generating compassion and social, cosmic and environmental healing.
The public is invited to watch the monks craft the mandala each day of their visit from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. A traditional opening ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Monday, April 20, when tour leader Geshe Lharampa Lobzang Samdup and the monks constructing the mandala are to chant prayers for peace, prosperity and healing. The chanters will display the art of throat singing in which a single singer creates multiple overtones, in effect sounding a chord. The chants will be accompanied by hand gestures, cymbals, drums and flutes.
There will also be a closing ceremony at 4 p.m. Friday, April 24, when the mandala will be deconstructed and the sand dispersed to those in attendance. Mandalas are destroyed at the end of the ritual as a symbol of impermanence.
"This will be a great opportunity for people to experience a completely different culture and a completely different understanding of the world than our own," said Matt Johnson, instructor of history and philosophy. "In addition to creating the mandala and performing folk dances and music, the monks will also discuss their way of life and philosophic training."
The monks will present a Pageant of Tibetan Culture at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 23, at Charles Johnson Theater in the Olive DeLuce Fine Arts Building. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. Throughout the week, the group will meet with history, philosophy and political science classes to discuss Tibetan culture, history and various aspects of Buddhism with Northwest students.
Besides displaying the art and religion of their mountain nation, the monks are touring the United States in an effort to raise funds that will be used to promote the survival of Tibetan culture. The Drepung Gomang Monastery depends on donations to provide housing, food and education for those wishing to study at the monastic college, including refugees from Chinese-occupied Tibet.
The original Drepung Monastery was founded in 1416 near Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and was once home to more than 10,000 monks. After China invaded Tibet in 1950, the country's political and spiritual leader, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, was forced to flee the country in 1959. The Dalai Lama and a small number of followers settled in northern India, where they were soon followed by thousands of refugees. In 1969, the few surviving Gomang monks were given 42 acres of land in Mundgod, south India, where they rebuilt Drepung Gomang. Located near the coast of the Indian Ocean between Mumbai and Bangalore, the monastic college is currently home to 1,500 monks.
The week-long residency of the Drepung Gomang monks at Northwest is being made possible through the support of a Culture of Quality grant, the Student Senate and the Department of History, Humanities, Philosophy and Political science. For more information about the monks' visit, call Johnson at 550.562.1471 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Additional information about the Drepung Gomang Monastery is available online at www.gomang.org .
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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