Litchfield to host monks from India

by ROBERT CYR, Register Citizen Staff, July 17, 2005

Litchfield, CT (USA) -- White Memorial will be transformed into a Tibetan Buddhist enclave on July 30 and 31, complete with 20 Tibetan monks from Drepung Gomang Monastery in Mundgod, India.

The event will highlight the struggles and teachings of the monks, who have been travelling the world for more than 50 years to share their stories as refugees, their spiritual techniques, and to raise money for food and medicine for their fellow monks in India, said event coordinator Michelle Weik.

A draw of several thousand visitors is expected at the festival, and volunteers are urgently needed, Weik said. Volunteers will help on committees to collect admission, sell food, assist monks in their performances, parking, and maintenance, she said.

Acting as emissaries for their holy leader the Dalai Lama, the monks coming to Litchfield?s 3,000 acre nature sanctuary almost didn?t get here at all, Weik said.

"There was so much confusion after the Tsunamis (in India and Sri Lanka) that everything came to a grinding hault," Weik said. "We knew they?d be coming sometime in June, but they ended up sitting in the Indian embassy for days, waiting for visas to come to America. It was a terrible mess."

India?s strained infrastructure quagmire following the tragic tsunamis only served to intensify the monks? problems concerning their status as political refugees in India, having had virtually no official country of origin since their escape from rampaging Chinese occupation in the 1950s, she said.

"They?re in Ohio right now," Weik said. "I believe most have never been to New England. It could be a first for many of us."

Although many Tibetans and Tibetan monks did not survive the years of oppression, those who did crossed the world?s highest terrain into India or fled to other corners of the world, including America, Weik said.

Connecticut and Western Massachusetts are home to many original Tibetan groups, Weik said.

Tibetan members of the Choedak family, who lives in Torrington, will be performing during the White Memorial event. Pema Choedak, daughter of Kelsane Choedak, will be doing a dance with some of her siblings and cousins, bringing a piece of her own cultural identity to the Litchfield Hills.

Kelsane Choedak, who moved here from Tibet 12 years ago with his wife, two sons and two daughters, said he won?t be doing any dancing.

"No, not me!" said Kelsane Choedak. "I am not a dancer, but I?m glad my children may be able to go. I may go, too."

Among the many uniquely Tibetan presentations will be "multi-phonic" singing by the monks, the only group of people in the world able to produce a full, three-note musical chord from a single singer?s vocal chords, said Weik. They will also be teaching Dharma workshops, Buddhist seminars, and sand mandala paintings, Weik said.

Keynote speaker at the event will be Robert Thurman, president of the Tibet House in New York City. Thurman, in addition to authoring many books on Buddhism, politics, and the history of the Tibetan struggle, coordinates the moves of the monks, their fund-raisers, and the Dalai Lama?s international message itself, according to a Tibet House news release.

The Dalai Lama, who is unable to attend, is a sponsor of the Tibet House, and recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent methods in achieving a resolution to the Chinese-Tibetan situation.

Those interested in volunteering should contact Michelle Weik at 567-0086, or John Murray at 361-9117.