Monks teach patience

Healing: Visiting Buddhist monks bring a sense of peace and spirituality to the Salisbury campus.

November 16, 2001|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

SALISBURY -- Hunched over a waist-high table in the middle of a Salisbury University art gallery, four burgundy-robed Tibetan monks peer intently at an intricate Buddhist design made of millions of grains of crushed marble.

Scraping gently on hand-hewn copper funnels called chak-pur, they drop streams of colored particles that gradually fill in the hand-drawn outline, a design so precise that many students say it looks as if it were done by a computer.

It will take four full days to create the mandala, a traditional devotional icon and meditation aid. In a moment Sunday afternoon, the monks will sweep it all away.

Dumping half into a nearby pond and giving away small packets of fine, colored stone, they believe, will send healing spiritual powers out into a world so recently scarred by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The exercise is meant to show the temporary nature of all life, according to Geshe Kunkhen, one of 10 clerics from the famed Drepung Loseling monastery who are spending the week at the Eastern Shore campus.

This particular design, one of hundreds of possibilities, was chosen Monday after the monks heard the news of another commercial airliner lost in New York, explains translator Dakpa Kaldem.

"This is a healing mandala for all the people who lost their lives and for the people here," Kaldem said. "It helps plant a seed of enlightenment."

Nineteen-year-old Tori Groy, a commuter student from Laurel, Del., figures her mainline Methodist background is a little weak on Eastern concepts. Nevertheless, she is one of hundreds of students, faculty and others who have streamed through the gallery in recent days, enchanted by the soft-spoken clerics.

"I've been here every day this week, sometimes for hours between classes," Groy said. "I was just thinking I could never work so long and hard on something and then just throw it away. But I don't think that anybody who has been here this week will ever forget them. There's just an incredible peace around them."

Monks from the Drepung Loseling monastery -- who have lived in exile in India since Chinese Communists invaded their native country in 1959 -- have toured the United States since 1988, making mandalas and performing traditional music and dance to increase awareness of their culture and political problems.

The tours, some sponsored by Richard Gere Productions, an agency created by the actor and activist for Tibetan independence, have taken monks to Carnegie Hall and propelled their sacred music to the New Age music charts.

They have also help raise money to support the 2,500 monks at the monastery in southern India. In addition to the $11,000 fee paid by the university's office of cultural affairs, the monks sell music discs, tapes, jewelry and other items at each stop.

The arrival of the Tibetans marks the end of a semester devoted to Asia, said June Krell-Salgado, the university's cultural affairs coordinator.

"In light of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, this has affected us profoundly," Krell-Salgado said. "I've seen students coming back day after day, I've seen people who never visit the gallery. The place was packed for the healing service. I'm sure a lot of people will come for the closing ceremony on Sunday."

This group of monks, ranging in age from 24 to 60, has traveled to 50 cities in North America during the past 11 months. After Saturday's consecration and closing ceremony, the group is headed for Louisiana, said Kaldem, who took a year off from his clerical job at a Tibetan refugee center in India to accompany the monks.

Deeply touched by the gentle but playful nature of the monks are a half-dozen host families, all within walking distance of the university, who have housed the visitors since Sunday. The local sponsors were surprised to learn how much the monks embrace American culture.

"I guess I just expected they'd be much more stern and serious," said Chris Kline, who took in two of the visitors for the week. "The first night, we just kept them up for hours talking and asking questions."

Kline says the monks, who aren't vegetarians, have developed a strong taste for American mainstays such as hamburgers and pizza. They've watched a little television (CNN) and enjoy playing pool and pingpong. Translator Kaldem, Kline said, spent the better part of an afternoon driving Kline's lawn tractor and raking leaves.

A profound moment for more than 20 host-family members came Monday night as they gathered in Carolyn Stegman's living room, praying with the monks, who chanted traditional meditations for 40 minutes.

"I not only tolerate diversity, I embrace it," said Stegman. "When you open your house to strangers, you open yourself. They say that life is fragile, that nothing lasts forever, that the beauty all around us is a moment in time. They just touch you."

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