Walking around campus last week, it would have been hard to miss the six monks dressed in their traditional colorful robes eating in the Commons and intermingling with students and staff. The peace emanating from these men is unmistakable and comes from their experience and time dedicated to Buddhism.
The monks come from the Gaden Shartse Monastery in Tibet, and they are currently completing their tour around the United States called, “The Sacred Arts of Tibet.” The purpose behind such a tour is to educate others of their way of life, as well as to spread their culture and beliefs to places around the globe.
Luckily, the students at W&J were able to listen to their lectures on The Four Noble Truths and The Teaching of Buddha and World Peace and the Unity of all Religions, they were able to witness the construction of the beautiful sand mandala that the monks worked on over the course of one-hundred hours and students were also able to attend an intimate Tara Puja Tea Ceremony.
The lectures were extremely interesting and shed light on how the monks view the world, as well as what we, as human beings, must do to fix it. Their convictions lie within the self-purging of inner toxins in order to solve problems and, “rid the poisons” of the outside world. Such inspirational words emphasized heavily on self-improvement and internal healing, that would in turn help greater society. Perhaps the most important part of their words of wisdom was to “thank your enemies” because they allow you to become a better person, as you must treat them with love and respect.
The construction of the sand mandala also remains a tribute to their admirable patience. Last week, the multi-colored sand was placed in metal tubes that would be rubbed together to create the intricate designs on the plastic blue surface. The intense concentration and precision to create such a beautiful masterpiece exposed their expertise as well as their respect for ritual as 100 hours of labor was then dismantled, leaving no remnants of its short-lived beauty behind. Overall, the meaning of the mandala is to express the aspects of Buddhism that the monks wish to represent in the piece, such as deities, nature, feelings of compassion and love. Each circle of the mandala also contains cultural significance, either as a tribute to a divine form or the human mind. Upon completion, the sand is ceremoniously swept in a certain fashion, as the monks hold a service for the dismantling of the sand mandala. The destruction of the piece represents the impermanence of life.
Finally, the Tara Puja Tea Ceremony is held to, “dispel obstacles and to help flourish all Dharma activities” as stated in the W&J website. It is also held to invoke the female reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion in order to rid suffering from all beings. The beautiful instruments used and the powerful chants entranced the audience, and gave a sneak peek to a traditional Buddhist Ceremony. The relatively short tea ceremony presented at W&J was only an hour and a half, whereas a traditional service would take an average of 18 hours to fully complete.
Overall, the ability of the student body to learn about a new culture and a different way of thinking is an important aspect of personal development. That being said, the Monks of the Gaden Shartse Monastery emanated peace and wisdom, showing how they live what they preach.