Three Buddhist Monks from Dharamsala, India Visit PA on ‘Compassionate Mandala Tour’

Three Buddhist monks from the Dalai Lama’s private Namgyal Dratsang Monastery in Dharamsala, India came to campus as one of six stops in the United States on their Compassionate Mandala Tour. Joining the monks in their tour is Tenzin Choegyal, a renowned traditional Tibetan musician. The three monks—Tenzin Chokrab, Tenzin Samten and Lobsang Kunga—spent the week creating a sand mandala, a sacred Buddhist sand painting, in George Washington Hall. Choegyal performed traditional Tibetan music during this week’s All-School Meeting on Wednesday and will perform tonight. The week began with the blessing of the GW lobby in preparation for the consecration of the mandala during Conference period Tuesday morning. The monks spent Tuesday working on the mandala and visiting music and art classes to sing, chant, draw and sand paint with students. On Tuesday evening, the Interfaith Council hosted a dinner in the Underwood Room. Choegyal played traditional Tibetan music and performed with Maxwell Meyer ’08 on the piano, Brendan Casey ’09 on the guitar and Emily Cokorinos ’08 on the bass. After the musical performance, the monks spoke about their experiences in the monastery. Tenzin Chokrab described a typical day at the monastery and answered students’ questions about the Buddhist way of life. All four members of the Compassionate Mandala Tour performed a blessing at the All-School Meeting on Wednesday. On Thursday, the monks led a morning meditation in Ropes Salon and continued to build their mandala. The monks’ visit, which started Wednesday and ends today, is the fourth of six stops on a nine-week tour through Australia, India and the United States. The tour will make its next stop at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. where the Dalai Lama will receive the Congressional Gold Medal. The U.S. tour, which involved ten months of preparation, began on September 18 at Columbia University and will end on November 10 at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. The Compassionate Mandala Tour began in celebration of the 14th Dalai Lama’s receipt of the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that the United States Congress can bestow on a civilian, in September 2006. The tour is intended to raise awareness about Tibetan culture and the exile of the Namgyal monks after the Chinese invasion of Tibet and to raise funds for the Tibetan Children’s Village, a charitable organization founded to ensure education for all Tibetan children in exile. The monks will hold a sacred dissolution ceremony Friday evening. They will spread the crushed gems of the sacred sand mandala into Rabbit Pond before performing a concert in the chapel as an end to a week of cultural celebration. This visit marks the first time Phillips Academy has been visited by monks from the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery. Karen Humphries Sallick ’83 brought the monks to campus after contacting the Office of Alumni Affairs to offer Andover the opportunity to host the Compassionate Mandala Tour. Reverend Michael Ebner said, “[The monks’ visit] offers our students the experience of sitting and listening to someone else’s ideas of life, which can open us to our own ideas.” By bringing the monks to PA, Sallick, a practicing Buddhist, hoped that Andover students might learn about some fundamental Buddhist principles, such as “happiness from non-attachment, and the discovery that things aren’t permanent. Phillips Academy isn’t permanent, and Andover students should enjoy every minute of it.” “The most important reason for bringing the tour to Andover is that this school was an incredible place for me, and it really opened my eyes,” she said. “I feel as though students here would be receptive and appreciative of the monks’ visit. I hope it will be a very special and important memory for each student in the future…If you see the mandala, you will realize its uniqueness. It is simply enriching, especially for Andover individuals.” About her experience with the monks, Sallick continued, “I am always amazed at each of them. No matter what is going on around us, they are always peaceful and kind… It is a great lesson for me to be calmer, and it is really incredible to be around them every day. I feel very lucky.” Assistant Head of School Rebecca Sykes said, “I’m really fascinated to see the development of this project. I think the timing is perfect, given the conversations we’ve been having about spirituality and religion and the place of those concepts at Phillips Academy.” Co-Head of Interfaith Council Jessica Cole ’08 said, “We often speak about tolerance in very broad terms at Andover…However, having the monks and a performer come visit brings to light the fact that tolerance is only the first step to building a community.”