Berea College has had a special relationship with the Tibetan government-in-exile dating back to the 1990s. That is when the late John Stephenson, then Berea’s president, befriended the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, according to Jeff Richey, chair of Asian Studies at the college.
The two men entered into a “unique agreement,” said Richey, resulting in the acceptance of two Tibetan students to study at Berea College each year. The first Tibetans graduated from Berea in 1995.
After Stephenson’s untimely death in 1994, he was included in the prayers of Tibetan Buddhists from all over the world, Richey said.
To celebrate the longstanding relationship and commemorate the 15th anniversary of Berea’s Asian Studies program, monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India have been on campus all week providing a variety of cultural experiences.
“Their (Berea College) scholarships to Tibetan students every year is a matter of deep gratitude from the entire Tibetan community, and no other colleges are this generous,” said Khentul Rinpoche, the monks’ group leader.
The monks have been enjoying their stay on campus, he said.
“The presence of Tibetan students has added to the homely feeling, and they are heavily involved in our activities. We will leave with lots of pleasant memories from this place.”
Tonight (Thursday) in Phelps-Stokes Chapel, the monks are scheduled to play traditional Tibetan instruments and perform ancient temple music and dances for world healing. The 8 p.m. event is open to the public, but seating is limited.
At the beginning of the week, the monks began work on a Tantric Buddhist mandala sand painting in the Baird Lounge of Berea’s Alumni Building.
After performing an opening ceremony Monday, the monks drew a line design for the mandala based on the sacred geometry as presented in their ancient scriptures. The process takes about three hours, according to literature provided by the monks.
With Tibetan music playing softly in the background, monks worked together to fill in the mandala design with colored sand by using chakpurs, traditional tools for this Tibetan art called dul-tson-kyil-khor, which literally means “mandala of colored powders.”
Monks tap and glide a metal rod over the grated surface of metal funnels filled with sand, and the vibration causes the sands to “flow like liquid.” The process takes three to five days to complete.
During a closing ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Friday, the monks will dismantle the mandala by sweeping up the colored sands to symbolize “the impermanence of all that exists.”
Also in Baird Lounge, the monks are selling books, Tibetan jewelry, ritual and meditation objects, music, home decorations and incense made by Tibetan refugees, Himalayan artists and monks from the monastery. Proceeds support the living expenses of the more than 3,000 monks residing in the monastery, Rinpoche said.
The group of monks left India in February and will travel across the United States in the coming months, he said. Their next stop is Traverse City, Mich.
The monks have three goals for their journey, he said: “To spread the message of universal brotherhood of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; to create awareness of the Tibetan issue; and to raise funds to sustain over 3,000 monks studying in our monastery back in India.”
For details on the Drepung Loseling Monastery, visit www.drepung.org.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.