Tibetan monks share teachings, practices of Buddhism in Terre Haute

By Laura Followell, The Tribune-Star, May 13, 2006

TERRE HAUTE, Indiana (USA) -- James Keep exposed his three children to something they had never seen prior to Sunday afternoon. He wants them to experience different cultures at a young age so they can gain a decent view of the world, he said.

“I want them to understand everyone is a little different and to celebrate the diversity that’s out there,” Keep said.

Keep and about 50 others listened to a Tibetan monk, Geshe Lobsang Samdup, at the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Fruitridge Avenue as Samdup talked about what it means to be a Buddhist.

Samdup was in Terre Haute with seven other monks who are nearing the end of a year-long mission in the U.S. and Canada to share wisdom while educating the public about Tibet. The monks are also raising money for their refugee monastery, the Drepung Gomang Monastic College in South India.

In unison, the monks stood with their eyes closed and demonstrated part of the Buddhist tradition by chanting solemnly.

The Geshe, a doctor of philosophy in Buddhist studies, then talked about Buddhists’ belief in what he described as the practice of different faiths.

He chose a topic titled “A tribute to all Mothers.”

“Life begins with love,” Samdup said. “… From the first time consciousness enters the mind in a mother’s womb, a relationship is established.”

He talked about how many mothers care for their children through compassion, love and constant concern, while often worrying about the child’s education and employment

“The gratefulness of the world still isn’t enough to repay the kindness of mothers,” Samdup said.

In Buddhism, new parents come with one’s rebirth, or reincarnation. Samdup said it’s important to remember the kindness in one’s previous life and repay that kindness in their new lifetime. Once a Buddhist establishes the existence of their past life through consciousness, then they can accept the existence of a future life and be reborn multiple times, he said.

“It’s our responsibility to repay compassion and kindness,” he said. “We should be kind to everyone and everything.”

He said that people of all faiths should pray to bring happiness and peace to the world.

A woman listening to Samdup asked him if he had any wisdom to share with a mother whose child has died.

“Death is uncertain. It doesn’t help to get stressed out and depressed,” the Geshe said, then suggested thinking positively about life.

He also told the woman that he believes if one kills in a past life, their current life will be short.

Tenzin Namgyal, a translator for the monks, said Buddhists believe in karma, or cause and effect.

They believe in learning from other faiths how to obtain peace, understanding and harmony.

It hasn’t always been peaceful for Tibetan monks. According to Drepung Gomang Monastic College’s Web site, www.gomang.org, in 1949, Chinese communists attempted to establish control in Tibet with the invasion of the People’s Republic of China. Ten years later Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled the country and 80,000 refugees followed him.

Mary Pattison of Bloomington’s Tibetan Cultural Center said these monks, who were told to denounce their religion and practice Chinese communism, had to go through “great peril and great danger and great risk so they could practice religion in peace.”

Indiana State University’s Center for the study of Health, Religion and Spirituality co-sponsored the program at the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Jean Kristeller of ISU said Tibetan Buddhism has a culture of rich psychology, where monks embrace the mind, body and spirit through art, she said.

The monks taught children in attendance how to sculpt Tibetan motifs.

They sculpted colorful roses out of Play-doh. The adults watched another monk demonstrate sand painting, which is part of Buddhists’ sacred ceremony.

The monk used a brass funnel that was about 18 inches long with a hole two millimeters in diameter on one end where the sand poured out. The bigger end of the funnel, on the opposite end, had a 1-inch hole in which sand was scooped.

The monk used another funnel-shaped, silver, metal object and rubbed the brass funnel to make very fine sand pour onto a piece of black cardboard.

The monk used green, white, red and blue sand separately and created a lotus flower.

David Howard took a shot at creating a sand painting and diligently made a stick-figured cat.

“It’s very challenging, but very rewarding,” he said. “It gives you appreciation of someone who can do something like this and make it absolutely beautiful while showing the beauty of other cultures.”