Monks bring taste of Tibet to IU Southeast

Nic Britton

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Monks from the Labrang Tashi Kyil Monastery enlightened Grenadiers with cultural performances and religious teachings Oct. 1-3.

In the Hoosier Room, as several dozen attendees take their seats, a few people are peeking from backstage. There are Monks from the Labrang Tashi Kyil Monastery in Dehradun, India, and IU Southeast is the latest stop on their seven-month tour across the United States.

After gauging the crowd, they enter the room and begin the first part of their cultural performance: the Mandala Offering, which is intended to enhance positivity and purify negativity. The audience is almost completely silent throughout; a reverent tone has been set.

A few minutes later, the enthusiastic Tashi Shoelpa Dance begins, with its three performers sporting white-beard masks and colorful costumes. It’s a notable departure from the introduction, and the rest of the performance evenly balances the two sides of the spectrum. Calm, distinguished chants are joined by lively, humorous dances.

It is an elaborate performance, but for the monks, it is only the beginning of their visit.

From Oct. 1-3, the monks held a series of free events on campus. The first two days were comprised of cultural performances and a screening of the film “Fire Under the Snow” in Meadow Lodge. On the final day, they gave a presentation regarding the purpose and creation of mandalas, works of art intended to represent wholeness.

Tenpa Phuntsok, one of the monks, said he felt their visit was a success.

“I have been enjoying the city here,” Phuntsok said. “The people have been compassionate. They understand why we’re here.”

The monks are touring the United States to teach about their religion and culture, and raise money for their monastery and those in need. Their original monastery was located in Tibet, but after it was destroyed by the Communist Party of China, it was rebuilt in India. Years later, the Tibetian Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (TMBCC) was built in Bloomington.

Valérie Scott, co-director of international programs, said the monks have had ties to the IU system, thanks to the TMBCC’s close proximity to IU-Bloomington.

“It has worked out very well,” Scott said.

Scott said the monks previously visited IU Southeast two years ago. She said the school was enthusiastic to have them back, but visa issues initially complicated the matter.

“We knew they were coming back in May or June,” Scott said. “Due to their visa issues, though, the date floated around for a while before it was finalized.”

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Monks from the Tashi Kyil Monastery entertained IU Southeast with the “Snow Lion” performance Oct. 1 in the Hoosier Room.

Scott said that the events were different from one another, but were equally exciting.

“The cultural performance probably grabbed people more on an entertainment level, while the mandala event was more about connection,” Scott said. “I think events like these open windows for students.”

Phuntsok said the various facets of the cultural performance “all have beautiful meaning” to him. He also said he particularly enjoyed the second performance, which took place in Stem Concert Hall.

“It was a big space, so I could jump and do anything,” Phuntsok said. “Since the stage was big, I didn’t have to worry about falling off.”

Destiny Tindall, nursing freshman, said she attended the movie screening at Meadow Lodge and found it moving.

“It was really touching,” Tindall said. “I wanted to cry for them.”

Delaney Green, computer science freshman, also attended the screening, which she described as “very intellectual.”

“If they had another event like it, I would definitely go again,” Green said. “I would recommend it to anyone.”

Scott said she wants IU Southeast’s international events to continue reaching progressively wider audiences.

“I hope to see as many people possible,” Scott said. “We don’t make selective events for specific groups. We want to open as many windows as possible.”