Monks’ message keeps Tibetan culture alive

August 31, 2005

At the opening ceremony Friday of the day of “celebration of Tibetan culture with the monks of Gaden Shartse,” the colorfully garbed monks chanted and played traditional instruments to share a little of their disappearing culture with a small crowd at Overlook Park. The sounds produced were somber; the long horns’ unimaginably low tones combined with percussion instruments and the monks’ low, slow chanting.

In a question-and-answer session after the ceremony, the monks said that they live in exile in a refugee camp in southern India. One of the monks at the camp spent three months walking out of Tibet, only at night, to reach the camp, and spent one 10-day stretch surviving only on grass.

They said before the Communist China occupation of Tibet, every third person in that country was either a monk or a nun. Their own monastery was destroyed, as many others have been. The last time some of them had been to Tibet was 1959.

Following the ceremony, the monks demonstrated the ancient art of sand mandala in the meeting room of the library. Due to the short time frame, the mandala was an “abbreviated” one — a formal mandala would be much larger and would take four days to complete.

The mandala represents the “palace of enlightened being.” Once the sand picture was completed, the monks held a dissolution ceremony, sweeping the intricate design made of colored sands into a pile in the center of the table and distributing it to onlookers to disburse anywhere they wanted to bring blessings to.

The community potluck was “packed,” according to Joan Yasui Emerson, through whose contacts the monks’ visit was made possible, and the evening event was also well attended.

“Rinpoche asked me to express his deepest appreciation to all the local folks who had made the day truly special,” she wrote in a thank-you to people who had helped with the event. “He said he could feel the good energy and spirit among us, and said he felt Hood River was a beautiful, peaceful ‘God place’ to which he would like to return. When I asked him if they might be touring some year in the future, he said (through his interpreter), ‘I don’t mean in the future; I would like to come for a visit in this beautiful place after we leave Eugene!’”

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