Monks perform at culture center

Dressed in red robes and gold crescent-shaped hats, they chanted low, long drones that became increasingly higher in pitch.

The monks, who belong to the Drepung Gomang Monastery in southern India, performed at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center on Thursday evening.

An audience of about 100 people watched, some beginning to meditate.

The hour-long performance began with a ceremony honoring the 14th Dalai Lama, acknowledging his spiritual presence in the space.

Six monks chanted as a shawl was placed in front of a framed photograph of His Holiness.

The meditative chant then transitioned into a lively dance, complete with beating drums and cymbals. A monk wearing a white feathered mask and embroidered dress danced around the room, whirling a colorful baton.

Later in the performance, the faces of the children in the audience lit up as a life-size, black yak, the national animal of Tibet, danced and wagged its tail.

The monks have been in Bloomington for about a week, center Director Lisa Morrison said. The group travels from India to Louisville, Ky., most years before visiting cities and universities across the country.

Geshe Jinpa, leader of the monks, said through an interpreter, the group hopes to accomplish three main goals during their visit.

“Our main purpose is to promote peace, harmony and unity by sharing our sacred message of the Lord Buddha,” Jinpa said.

The second goal consists of informing the public about the situation in Tibet.

“Inside Tibet, they have no free religion,” Jinpa said. “People are not even allowed to have a picture of His Holiness.”

The monks also hope to raise funds for their refugee monastery in southern India, Jinpa said.

Mary Pattinson, the center director’s secretary, said about 60 monks lived at the 42-acre facility when the monastery was originally built.

Currently, almost 2,000 monks live in the monastery. Most of the monks moved to the monastery after fleeing persecution from communism in Tibet, Pattinson said.

When the monastery was based in Tibet, Pattinson said it received substantial financial support from the community.

“The monks are now in a Hindu society and have no one to support them so they are totally dependent on donations,” she said.

In the monastery, the monks study Buddhist philosophy, taking 22 to 23 years to complete 16 courses, Jinpa said. They also study western sciences, such as biology and psychology.

The monks then take an additional six years for examinations.

“They then receive a Geshe degree, which is the equivalent of a doctoral degree,”
Pattinson said. 

Once they are finished with their studies, the monks spend their days praying, taking care of the settlement and teaching younger monks.

“They are very sophisticated in training the mind,” Pattinson said. “They are about 1,500 years ahead of us.”

Jinpa said he hopes to inspire peace, harmony and unity between different people and religions.

“I think it’s a really rare and wonderful experience for the community to learn about this ancient culture in a fun and creative way,” Morrison said.

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