Texas Welcomes Tibetan Buddhist Monks Offering Lessons on Impermanence
Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in southern India return to Houston, Texas, from 14–18 August to lead a Mystical Arts of Tibet program at the Asia Society Texas Center. The public had an opportunity to witness a variety of spiritual practices that have been part of Tibetan Buddhist culture for hundreds of years.
Perhaps the most notable of the practices was the construction of a sand mandala, which kicked off the program in a beautiful opening ceremony. After creating an intricate design, the monks took great pains over five days to lay out millions of grains of colored sand using metal funnels (chakpur).
Geshe Tenzin Phentsok, one of the monks who worked on the design, explained that the mandala symbolizes the path to enlightenment. “Without roadmaps we get confused where to go. So mandala is something like that; the enlightened road where actually it’s representing all the aspects of the enlightened qualities,” he said. “So that’s why we’re creating the mandalas. Its colors, patterns, design, structures—everything has a specific meaning.” (Houston Public Media)
On Sunday, the monks preformed a ceremonial dance then proceeded to destroy the mandala by running a paintbrush through its center, illustrating the impermanence of life and all compounded phenomena.
Speaking to the popularity of the monks, Stephanie Todd Wong, director of Arts and Culture at the Asia Society, explained: “There’s something inherent in what they do of a sense of time and of being in the moment that is hard to find sometimes in our fast-paced society today that I think people are drawn to.” (Houston Chronicle)
During the five-day program, members of the public were invited to decorate a lungta prayer flag, which is used by Tibetan Buddhists to send out beneficent vibrations via the wind. The monks also held two dance ceremonies, donning elaborate costumes and masks in the traditional fashion. The performances featured zokkay chanting and were accompanied by traditional Tibetan instruments such as 10-foot-long dung-chen horns, drums, bells, cymbals, and gyaling trumpets.
“We are finding ourselves in a divisive time,” said Wong. “There is a lot of questioning of ‘the other’ I think that happens right now, which makes our overall mission of creating cultural understanding between Asia and the West ever more important. This is a way for us to get to know our neighbor more closely, more deeply, to understand different perspectives in the world, and hopefully to put positive energies back out into our community and show that we are more alike than we are different.” (Houston Chronicle)
Asia Society Texas is a non-governmental organization that was established by former First Lady Barbara Bush and former Ambassador Roy M. Huffington in 1979. Its mission statement reads:
With 13 locations throughout the world, Asia Society is the leading educational organization promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among the peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the West. Asia Society Texas Center executes the global mission with a local focus, enriching and engaging the vast diversity of Houston through innovative, relevant programs in arts and culture, business and policy, education, and community outreach. (Asia Society)
Watch: Buddhist Monks Create Intricate Sand Mandala At Houston’s Asia Society Texas Center (Houston Public Media)
Tibetan Buddhist monks begin five-day healing ceremony in Houston (Houston Chronicle)
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