Tibetans to visit Hotchkiss Monks to construct intricate sand design

By Gale Courey Toensing, Republican-American , January 8, 2005

SALISBURY, USA -- When the Tibetan monks from the Gaden Jangtse monastery construct a sand mandala at Hotchkiss School next week, they will be participating in a spiritual art that was taught by Buddha in the 6th Century B.C.

A mandala is an intricate geometric design, usually enclosed in a circle, which represents the totality of the universe. It is used in meditation and ritual in Buddhism and Hinduism.

The construction of a sand mandala is only one of the events that the dozen monks will engage in during their visit to Hotchkiss which begins Monday. There also will be meditation sessions, chanting, empowerment and blessing rituals, discussions, demonstrations of debate, and reflections on world events.

The public is invited to attend the sessions at the school.

This is the second time that the private school in Lakeville has hosted this group of monks from Mundgod, South India. Their first visit was two years ago.

The monks are on a yearlong tour of the United States and Canada, trying to raise awareness about their situation and money for their monastery.

The monks left Tibet following the Communist Chinese invasion of 1959. Their temples were destroyed and language outlawed. More than a million Tibetans were killed during the invasion and those who fled persecution were exiled to India, where the government has donated land to rebuild the monasteries. But help from the government is limited, and more monks come each year from Tibet and from refugee communities in India.

At Hotchkiss, the creation of the sand mandala, or "road map of the universe," will begin at the opening ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Monday.

The creation process begins with the monks' meditating each day when they visualize the deities of the mandala and recite prayers. They draw the outline of the mandala to serve as a guide for the placement of sand, which is done a few grains at a time. They will work on the mandala Monday from 11:30 to 5 p.m. in the school's Seminar Room.

The public is invited to meet and participate in events with the monks all week:

The public is invited to meet the monks from 9 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdsay in the seminar room;

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the school chapel, the monks will lead a discussion, "Reflections of World Events;"

A program on chanting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the school's faculty lounge;

A closing meditation session will be held in the seminar room at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Tibetan artifacts will be available for purchase and donations are encouraged.

The monks' visit was coordinated by Nancy Bird, director of health services at the school. Groups that are intending to visit the Seminar Room to view the construction of the sand mandala are asked to reserve a time in advance by calling Bird at (860) 435-3234.

Hotchkiss is at 11 Interlaken Road in the Lakeville section of Salisbury. For directions, go to www.hotchkiss.org.