Tibetan Monks Visit Burlington

On Thursday, October 20th, Burlington welcomed six Tibetan monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in India. The Buddhist monks, on their first world tour, spoke about the persecution of Buddhism in Tibet by the Chinese government, and the monastic struggles that have followed. While on the tour, the monks, who are the six top artists of the one thousand, eight hundred and fifty in the monastery, are constructing sand mandalas. The exhibit, which began Thursday morning at One Main Street, displayed ceremonial masks, traditional costumes, and other sacred arts, as well as the mandala. Mandala is a Sanskrit word for “world in harmony.” This Tibetan sand painting is an ancient art form, carefully created from dyed sand particles. Millions of grains of sand are meticulously placed on a flat surface by two narrow, metal funnels. These metal rods, called “chakpurs” are rubbed together lightly to cause small vibrations that trickles the sand grains out of its tip. The mandalas are created where there is felt to be a need for healing of the environment and living beings.” Forming an intricate diagram in three-dimensional sand forms, Buddhists believe the mandala generates compassion, recognizes the impermanence of all that exists, and creates a cosmic healing of the environment. The monks consider the current age to be one of great need for spiritual healing, and therefore are creating mandalas where requested around the world. After taking several days to fully complete the mandala, the monks pour the sands into a nearby river, symbolizing the impermanence of all life, and believing that the waters will carry healing energies throughout the world. At UVM on Friday morning, one of the monks, along with their translator, an English teacher at the monastery and speaker on the tour, discussed the history of Tibet and the Drepung Gomang Monastery. Displayed through pictures, the Scottish translator explained China’s invasion of Tibet in 1949. Tibet, an independent country recognized by international law, was threatened by the Chinese government and still is today, forcing more than eighty thousand Buddhists to flee to India for religious freedom, including the Dalai Lama. Mao Zedong’s PLA troops killed, raped, and tortured hundreds of thousands of Tibetans, while destroying villages and monasteries. The Tibetan language and culture is being destroyed, all tradition eradicated, and Chinese institutions imposed. Monks and nuns were imprisoned, and some of the worst human rights abuses were experienced, electrocuting and burning people as some of the less cruel examples. The Chinese government has also caused severe environmental damage to Tibet: dumping toxic waste in rivers, clearing forests, endangering species, and creating and testing nuclear weapons (which China now has three hundred to four hundred of). Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans die from famine or disease every year. The speaker told several stories of the harsh conditions under which specific monks of the monastery fled Tibet, hiking through the Himalayas to India. Today, the Drepung Monastery faces more challenges, as it struggles to build adequate monasteries in India, supply food and education to the monks and nuns, while generating no income and dedicating much time to meditation. We can help the monastery by donating money for the food foundation and health fund that they have created. For more information, contact the Drepung Gomang Administrative Office or search their website. “It was an honor to watch the mandala being made. The talent and patience that it took to place the sands was amazing,” said David Speer, ’09. Indeed, both the mandala and lecture were a truly unique experience and breadth of culture that Burlington does not often get to experience.