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Monks from India visit Plattsburgh

 A Tsawa monk from India works on a sand mandala at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts in Plattsburgh.

A Tsawa monk from India works on a sand mandala at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts in Plattsburgh. Photo by Stephen Bartlett.

Prior to and during their time in the region, area students and community members explored the monks’ culture through art, meditation, performances and more.

“This gives us a chance to engage with cultures that are half a world away,” said Scherline. “They are refugees that lost their homeland.”

The Dalai Lama and many of his supporters fled Tibet and took refuge in India when Chinese troops moved in and took control of Lhasa in 1959. India is home to roughly 100,000 Tibetans whose government-in-exile is not recognized by any country.

“They are amazing, lovely and gentle,” Scherline said of the monks.

The monks spent their time in the area demonstrating ritual Cham Dances, a Buddhist ceremony performed at the beginning of the year to expel or pacify evil; conducting pulse readings and prayer, the latter of which entailed deep-throated chanting and instruments; creating sculptures of colored butter in the image of deities, flowers, animals and symbols; and constructing the sand mandala.

Using ancient techniques, the monks created the sand mandala at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts. Sand mandalas are depictions of the mansions of enlightened beings and are made with crushed stones or painted sand.

The mandala takes wisdom, and as people come and watch and sometimes pray, the colors teach peace, love and kindness, explained Dr. Geshe Dorji Wangchuk, tour leader.

It has four directions, each with its own meaning, and the five colors equal the elements.

“You want to achieve enlightenment,” Wangchuk said. “First you need to balance all elements, and your mind is always fresh.”

It is also about removing suffering and achieving liberation.

“We all have Buddhist nature,” Wangchuk said. “You practice love and kindness and your Buddhist nature can come up.”

Plattsburgh State student Katelyn McMahon found her time with the monks interesting and eye opening. She had no idea the area offered such activities.

“You usually don’t see that unless it is on Discovery or the History Channel,” she said.

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