In 2009 five monks from Gaden Jangtse Monastery, all trained in the sacred Tibetan Buddhist art forms, will be visiting Campbell River on the final leg of their Tibetan Sacred Art Tour of Canada, which began in Quebec.
The monastery’s namesake has a long, honourable history. Originally, Gaden Jangtse Monastary was near Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. It was founded in 1409 for the purpose of learning and practising the disciplines of Sutra and Tantra teachings of Buddhism. More than 3000 studied and practised there and many became great yogis.
In 1959 Communist China forcefully occupied Tibet and brought destruction to the people, their culture and their infrastructures. Thousands of Tibetans were killed, some while attempting to escape on foot through mountain passes to India. The Dalai Lama, and many thousands of Tibetans sought asylum in India.
Originally, the monastery was relocated at Buxa, a national park located in West Bengal, India, and part of the southern hills area of Bhutan. When the monastery was rebuilt in 1969, it was again relocated, this time to a southern settlement named Mundgod. It housed 169 monks who had come from Tibet.
Since then it has become one of the most important educational centres to be re-established in South India. It’s numbers have increased to 2,023, including all age groups. The youngest novice is six and the oldest monk is 96 or so. About 500 are less than 20. Most of this younger group have recently escaped from Tibet for reasons of inhuman treatment, lack of human rights, and because there is no proper education in occupied Tibet.
The education received in Gaden Jangtse Monastery is in depth and the schedule, quite demanding. The day begins at 5am with bathing, followed by scripture memorization at 5:20. From 6:30-7am is breakfast. The study of Buddhist teachings is from 7:00 – 8:00, followed closely by over 2 ½ hours of debating, which is undertaken for the same amount of time in the evening from 8:00 till 11:30.
Debating is a significant characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism. The monks train their clear, quick thinking, grow to understand Buddhist teachings better, and learn to analyze, give proof and think logically. Each day monks spend more than 6 hours debating first with one monk, then two monks and finally more than 20. Yearly they gather with monks from other monasteries to debate for one month. It’s a dynamic, active practise that helps all participants to deepen and sharpen their comprehension.
At other times during the day there is further study and Puja. Pujas are expressions of “honour, worship and devotional attention.” Acts of Puja include bowing, making offerings and chanting, ceremonial worship, daily prayers, and other temple rites.
Young children who enter the Monastery school begin with regular study, including English, math, social sciences, Tibetan grammar, Tibetan history and religion, Tibetan writing and drawing. They begin their monastic syllabus after the 8th or 10th grade.
During the growing season, all except Rinpoches, Geshes and little monks work on the monastery farm growing rice, corn and fruit.
Five monks will be visiting our area. Lobsang Dharmchoe began studies in Tibet and came to study monastic education at Gaden Jangtse in 1992. He has travelled twice to the US and once to Canada. Tashi Gyaltsen fled Tibet in 1987 at age 15 and enrolled at Gaden Jangtse. He is the administrator of the monastic college and has made religious tours to Canada, USA and Europe. Tamding Kichoe was admitted to the Monastery at age 7. He is now Chanting Master and is well-trained in butter sculpture and Sand Mandala construction. Kalsang Choedak was admitted to the monastery at age 17. He has been a chanting master for eight years and is well trained in the art of Sand Mandala construction.
The word “mandala” is from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit. Loosely translated to mean “circle,” a mandala is far more than a simple shape. It represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself–a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds. The mandala appears in all aspects of life: the celestial circles we call earth, sun, and moon, as well as conceptual circles of friends, family, and community. It is an integrated structure described around a unifying centre.
The symbolism of meditation Mandalas has a rich tradition. The outer form is a Yantra, a geometric design acting as a highly efficient tool for contemplation, concentration and meditation. They are usually designed so that the eye is carried into the center. The Yantra provides a focal point that is a window into the absolute. When the mind is concentrated on the Yantra, the mental chatter ceases.
Each detail of the Mandala’s construction has symbolic meaning. Describing both material and non-material realities, the mandala appears in all aspects of life: the celestial circles we call earth, sun, and moon, as well as conceptual circles of friends, family, and community.
This October 1st, Beijing marked the 60th anniversary of Communist rule. Its occupation of Tibet and suppression of Tibetan culture continue, unabated.
The mission of the travelling monks is to deliver a message of peace. By sharing their teachings and rituals of purification of the spirit, they demonstrate how to lead a simple, satisfying and devoted life. They show us how to obtain true happiness by benefiting others from the heart: always, kindly, and generously.
The monks arrive in Campbell River October 27th. The tour will include traditional Tibetan dances, chanting and debate, and the building of a sacred Sand Mandala. On the last day of their residency, there will be a closing ceremony, where the mandala is gathered up and, in a ritual of non-attachment to material representations, scattered in the ocean. Over their residency, the public will be able to visit and observe the monks at their sacred practise from 10am – 12pm and 1:30 till 5pm at the Art Gallery. Admission is by donation (suggested donation $5). Some programming for student groups in conjunction with the tour is available. Proceeds from the tour will go to support the monks at Gaden Jangtse Monastery in South India.
When you enter the Gallery in its period of becoming a prayer hall and the setting for the creation of a sacred Mandala, you will feel peace in the presence of the ancient traditions and forget, at least briefly, the demands and confusion of modern, western life.
For more information, call the Art Gallery at 250-287-2261.
Annette Yourk is a freelance writer. She also works at Campbell River Art Gallery in promotions and programming. She’s more dangerous than she appears.