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Monks share culture at SU

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Salisbury University had a taste of Tibet last week as SU hosted 11 Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Georgia.

The monastery is a Buddhist temple, “dedicated to the study and preservation of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of wisdom and compassion,” according to their pamphlets. It also follows in the legacy of the Drepsung Loseling Monastery of India.

The temple is supported by its members and donors as well as with the patronage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Tibetan monks practice Buddhism, a religion devoted to finding enlightenment and piece in oneself after the practice of Buddha Shakyamuni who lived and taught this way of living in India over two thousand years ago.

This visit marked the monks’ fifth stay at the campus, and each time they constructed a mandala and taught about their culture.

During the week, SU students, faculty and staff, as well as community members, were welcome to several free events where they could experience and learn more about the monk’s lives and Tibetan culture.

The week started on Tuesday April 12 with the opening ceremony in Holloway Hall’s Great Hall, and continued that day through Friday with construction of a sand mandala in the same room.

A Tibetan mandala is a tool for those practicing to gain wisdom and compassion, and is typically a “tightly balanced, geometric composition wherein deities reside,” according to the Smithsonian Institute for Asian Art.

The mandala is used by the monks for guiding those creating it in the path to enlightenment, helping them to meditate and look to the deities within as models.

The type of mandala that the monks at SU created is unique to Tibetan Buddhism in that it is made with sand. This type of mandala is supposedly used to create purification and healing, according to SIAA.

In order to create it, usually a teacher chooses which specific mandala those practicing will create, those monks creating it then consecrate the cite with chants and music, draw a detailed depiction from memory of the mandala to be created, then fill each space with grains of colored sand.

The public was welcome to watch as the monks constructed their piece from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, as well as buy souvenirs provided by and made by the monks, donate to their education and monetary fund and learn more about the culture through looking at the monk’s shrine to the Dalai Lama, information packets and speaking with the monks.

Souvenirs available for purchase included jewelry, prayer beads, hand-made books, flags, bumper stickers, tapestries, shirts and more.

Although not all of the 11 monks spoke English, the public was encouraged to attempt communication. SU’s Office of Cultural Affairs provided a “Useful Phrase” sheet through a campus-wide email and physical copies at the events to aid in this. On the sheet were phrases such as “hello,” “how are you,” “would you like to go out” and “see you later.”

During the construction of the mandala, onlookers could get in on the action through a communal mandala construction kit and coloring pages. By using the kit, those in attendance had a chance to find out how mandalas are really constructed, by using the same types of tools and sand the monks use.

The Salisbury community was also given the chance to learn about Tibetan culture in supplemental events on Wednesday April 13 and Thursday April 14.

Commons Bistro hosted an International Dinner Series event on Wednesday called “A Taste of Tibet” and on Thursday SU Philosophy Chair Joerg Tuske gave his talk entitled “Key Concepts in Buddhist Teaching: Momentariness and Liberation.”

The monks finally consecrated their mandala on Saturday through prayers and chants and concluded their stay later with music, prayers and chants, then finally deconstructing their masterpiece through a dispersal ritual.

The SU and greater Eastern Shore community both said they enjoyed the experience.

“I love the monks,” SU 2014 alum Katie Carroll said, who interned for the Cultural Affair’s office last time the monks came to SU and helped to gather the information and host them. “For me personally, I just learned so much about them. It’s one of those things where you’re like ‘oh that sounds cool’ so you come check it out, and you end up learning in the process.”

Jasmine Justice, 18, is a senior at Indian River High School in Delaware and came to the event with her grandmother who lives in the area.

“I think it’s pretty cool, it’s interesting,” she said. “It’s eye opening and lets you experience different cultures. It’s gnarly.”

Tibetan monks always disperse their mandalas after completion to represent their belief in the impermanence of existence.

After the dispersal of the sand, all in attendance were given small bags of the mandala sand for good wishes of peace, love and kindness, according to Office of Cultural Affairs Director June Krell-Salgado.

The remaining sand was brought to Wicomico River in the City Park to finish the impermanence through dispersal ritual.

There, audience members could witness the monks casting the sand into the river, so that their wishes for peace, love and kindness flowed “from small river, to big river, to ocean, then around the world,” as Krell Selgado said.

During the fall semester, Tibet’s Sikyong (Prime Minister) Lobsang Sangay came to SU to receive SU’s Presidential Medal and spoke on this idea of impermanence.

“You will live, you will die; you have no choice,” he said during his speech entitled “Democracy and the Third Way.” “But since you are leaving, leave this world with something that will make it a better place.”

During their stay, the monks were hosted by community members deemed “monk mommy and daddys,” led by “Head Monk Mom” and former SU faculty member Carolyn Stegman.

“The best way to bridge culture is through the arts,” Krell-Selgado said. “No matter what religion you are, everyone can relate to goodness, kindness, love and peace.”

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