Thursday, August 29, 2013

Monks return to make another mandala at Randolph in Sept. 2013

A group of Tibetan Buddhist monks will return to Randolph College in September to construct a sacred sand mandala.

The monks from Tashi Kyil Monastery in Derha Dun, India, are on a tour of the United States. They visited Randolph on their tour in 2011. Suzanne Bessenger, assistant professor of religious studies, invited them back.

An opening ceremony will take place on Saturday, Sept. 7, at 12:45 p.m. in Houston Memorial Chapel, during which the monks will dedicate the space for the sacred artwork. The public is invited to watch them work daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.  On September 11, at 3:30 p.m., the monks will hold a closing ceremony in which they will destroy the mandala and disperse its colorful sand into a nearby creek.

“This is a great opportunity to witness an historic form of religious art,” said Bessenger. “I hope that Randolph students and Lynchburg area residents take advantage of the opportunity to come and watch Tibetan Buddhist art in action and to develop relationships with some wonderful people.”

A mandala is created by arranging grains of sand in an intricate pattern containing religious symbols. Bessenger said it has played a significant role in Buddhist thought and practice since at least the sixth century. Its significance in Hindu thought and practice dates earlier. “To be able to witness the evolution of the practice of the mandala art form, here in 21st century Lynchburg, Virginia, is a remarkable opportunity,” she said.

The monks will create an Avalokitesvara mandala representing the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Beginning in the 17th century, Tibetan Buddhists believed this deity incarnated as the Dalai Lama.

When they are not working on the mandala, the monks will offer several public events:

  • Sunday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m.—Film screening of “The Cup,” a movie about young monks who manage to find a way to watch the World Cup finals at their monastery.  The monks will answer questions after the movie. Nichols Theatre, Student Center.
  • Monday, Sept. 9, 7 p.m.— “Let’s Travel to Tibet,” a cultural program that will include a yak dance, a re-enactment of the story of Tibetan holy man Milarepa, and a debate demonstration. Attendees will receive a guidebook with Tibetan phrases. Houston Memorial Chapel

Also, Bessenger will present a lecture, “Do Nuns Make Mandalas?” on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m. in Houston Memorial Chapel.

Since the monks will be staying in the residence halls, students will be able to meet and personally interact with them during their visit.

“Randolph students will get to live, eat, and work with Tibetan monks for five days, all without leaving their college campus.  It is a tremendous educational opportunity,” said Bessenger.

“Normally when I teach Buddhism to Randolph students, I use books and other forms of media, which is fine.  It is another thing entirely, however, to be able to live with practicing Tibetan monks, to talk with them about their work, to share meals with them,” she added.