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Tibetan monks teach art, compassion

Tibetan monks chant at South Windsor church/Tracy Simmons - Creedible

SOUTH WINDSOR – Eight exiled Tibetan monks visited Connecticut on Sunday to spread a message of peace and compassion, and to teach the beauty of the endangered Tibetan culture.

As part of the Sacred Arts Tour, monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in South India spent the day at Unity of Greater Hartford in South Windsor, where they showed visitors how to make mandala sand art, butter sculptures, Tibetan prayer flags and other hallowed customs.

“It’s a joy to have them here. It’s what Unity is all about – universal principles expressed on different paths, and we want to affirm that” said Rev. Edward Townley, senior minister at Unity.

Connecticut resident Anny Carr, who has a strong relationship with the monastery, explained that the monks are traveling across the U.S. not only to teach Tibetan traditions, but also to raise money for the monastery, which is home to 2,000 monks exiled from Tibet. She said the monastery needs money for healthcare and food.

“We are living there as Tibetan refugees,” said Phuntsok, a monk who spoke English. “And we sincerely want to communicate a message of peace, compassion and loving-kindness and to promote wisdom….We want to share our culture because at this time our culture is in danger inside Tibet.”

In 1949 Chinese government invaded Tibet and since then hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been killed and 6,000 monasteries, nunneries and temples were destroyed. In 1959 the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s political and spiritual leader, fled the country. More than 100,000 Tibetans followed him, establishing the Tibetan Government in Exile.

Monasteries, like Drepund Gomang, are dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture, which is why they participate in the Sacred Arts Tour each year.

Before hosting sacred art workshops at Unity, the monks spoke briefly on the Buddhist view of compassion.

“The source of peace and happiness is the practice of compassion,” Phutsok said. “The root cause of suffering and unhappiness is self-centeredness.”

Tibetan monks chant at South Windsor church/Tracy Simmons - Creedible

By being mindful of such things, he said, one can promote harmony in the world. At the monastery the monks practice this through prayer chants and mediation.

“Part of what we do in the practice of Buddhism is trying to know self-destruction and how negative emotions can destroy ourselves. Trying to reduce that self-centered attitude makes your compassion more powerful.”

Besides prayer and meditation, Phutsok said, art is another way to practice kindness. At the event, the monks showed the church how to create such art, and explained the symbolism behind the crafts.

Mandala Sand Art

Tibetan sand painting is created whenever a need for healing is felt, for the environment or for living beings. Using colored sand and chakpurs (tools), the artist a geometric design that symbolized the union of wisdom and compassion. To show the impermanence of the world, the sand art is poured into a nearby river upon completion. It is believed that the waters then carry the art’s healing energies throughout the world.

Butter Sculpture

Butter sculptures also symbolize impermanence. Traditionally they were made with Yak butter. But in India, where it’s warmer, monks use ghee, fat and wax. They are often displayed in monastery shrines or in family homes. At the Unity event, the monks taught the art using Play-doh.

Tibetan Prayer Flags

Prayer flags are inscribed with auspicious symbols, invocations, prayers, and mantras. For centuries Tibetan Buddhists have placed the flags outside, where the wind can carry the prayers across the countryside.

Also at the Unity event, guests had the opportunity participate in laughter yoga and a dance for universal peace.

The monks came to Connecticut from Pennsylvania and in a few days will take their tour to Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Donations can still be made the monastery through its website here.

View Flicker photos of this event here.


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