From Aug. 27 to Aug. 29, SLU was host to Buddhist monks from southern India. These monks came to SLU in order to accomplish three goals: to build sand mandalas as a symbol of peace and unity, to spread the teachings of Buddhism and to raise money to support their simplistic lifestyle.
The Tibetan monks spent the majority of their time at SLU in the Center for Global Citizenship constructing a sand mandala – a piece of artwork made by placing colored grains of sand. It is a tool used by the Buddhists to re-consecrate the earth and all of its inhabitants. The mandala at SLU was constructed during a three day span in the Center for Global Citizenship.
The Buddhist monks incorporated many religious and spiritual symbols from around the globe in the mandala, as well as the symbols for the four elements: earth, fire, air and water. By incorporating the religious symbols, the Tibetan monks wanted to symbolize peace and unity between all humans – no matter their core beliefs. The symbols of the four elements represented harmony between humans and nature.
In accordance with Tibetan belief, after construction the sand mandala was swept up into plastic bags and dissolved in a pond outside of the Samuel L. Cupples House, in a ceremony on the final day of the monks’ visit. This dissolution symbolized the fleeting nature of attachments to the material world.
The Tibetan monks also held a presentation at Jesuit Hall on Aug. 28 with the goal of fostering a greater understanding of their culture and practices, not to spread their religion. The lead monk said, “If you like these ideas and want to take them into practice, then please do so. Otherwise, no problem for me.”
After an explanation of their ideals, the monks began a Buddhist prayer, spoken completely in the native Tibetan tongue. This began with a chant to bring peace to the room, for which the monks arranged themselves in a row in front of the hall. They then began vocal intonations with claps separating different parts of the prayer. Near the end of the chant, all of the monks donned traditional headdresses. Those at the end of the row blew into large trumpets that rested at the sides of their chairs while the others aided with cymbals and bells.
After the chant, the monks conducted a lively debate amongst themselves. The monks jumped around, made exaggerated clap gestures, and pushed each other around. They laughed as they did it, however, eliciting synonymous laughs from the crowd.
As explained by the lead monk, the two monks sitting down showed compassion to the monks that were jumping and clapping. From this compassion, as the monks had their questions answered, they made an exaggerated clap gesture. In this gesture, bringing the hands together brought “all sentient beings together.”
Then, once the hands were together, the upper hand continued going down in order to push the lower realms further below in order to throw the sentient beings to the upper realms.
This purpose of throwing sentient beings into higher realms is related to the Buddhist teaching of how reaching higher realms is the way to enlightenment. When the monks debated, the compassion of the two sitting down showed how spreading this compassion is a benefit to everyone.
The sand mandala, the prayer and the debate were done in order to provide insight into Tibetan Buddhist culture. All of these acts were representative of different aspects of Buddhist culture. The mandala signified impermanence, the prayer displayed Buddhist religious practices, and the debate showed the Buddhist belief in enlightenment.