The Monks of Gaden Shartse Monastery are on the campus of the University of South Dakota through Sept. 27.
The monks are crafting a “sand mandala” in the atrium of the Andrew E. Lee Memorial Medicine and Science Building every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They are also giving lectures to classes this week on a variety of topics.
The Tibetan monks arrived on campus Monday and presented a spiritual opening ceremony before beginning the construction of the sand mandala.
“There will be hundreds of details,” said Lobsang Wangchuk, trip manager. “Every part (of the mandala) has some specific meaning.”
The structure will be a three-dimensional figure made of different colored sands Wangchuk said. It is a tradition in Tibetan Buddhism to build the sand mandala. There will be up to four monks working on it at a time in the atrium of the Lee Medical Building.
“It is cool that we have them come to campus here because part of the college experience is learning about different cultures. This is different from what I had growing up in South Dakota,” said Tanner Geary, a first-year student.
Geary said he went to the opening ceremony because it relates to his world religions and sustainability courses.
At the end of the week the monks will destroy the mandala and dispose of the sand in the Missouri River.
“We believe everything is impermanence,” said Jampa Lobsang Sr., a monk and translator.
Wangchuk explained releasing the sand back into nature symbolizes the impermanence of life. The destruction will take place Friday at 3:30 p.m. in the atrium.
“It is $2 a day to keep a monk alive for food, clothing, a home and provides teachers,” Wanchuk said.
The Gaden Shartse Monastic College is an in-depth university located in India, teaching Buddhist philosophy and practice. Wanchuk said the monastic program is 25 years of study.
“No tuition, your books are free, your room is free, your clothes are free, your whole life,” Wangchuk said. “It’s a little different than college in the United States.”
The group of Tibetan monks tour the country for two reasons he said: to educate and to raise money. Wanchuk said it costs approximately $3,000 a day to keep the monastery running, which doesn’t include maintenance or building improvements.
The college is located in a refugee camp in India. In 1959, the Chinese invaded Tibet in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. More than one million Tibetans were killed between 1959 and 1972.
Gaden Shartse was founded in Tibet in the 15th century. After the invasion, 48 surviving members of the college fled to India.
The Buddhist religion does not believe in violence, but instead a more peaceful approach.
“Long term, we think this brings world peace,” Wangchuk said.
The main source of income for the college is from the crops on the land, but it can only cover one month out of a year’s worth of funding.
The monks have begun the tours to share their culture and to raise money. Wangchuk said they are not here to push the Buddhist religion onto anyone else.
First time in U.S.
Lobsang’s visit to South Dakota marks his third week in the United States on tour that will span over two years.
“It is a very good experience, very big and there are cultural difference from India and Tibet,” said Lobsang. “A lot of different food.”
Lobsang, 37, was born in Shimalia, India and enrolled in the university at age nine.
He said he is a native Tibetan. He has completed his studies to become a monk and is waiting for his Geshe examinations. The Geshe examination will certify him officially as a monk.
Lobsang is a sand mandala master and the primary translator on the tour.
He said they will visit four to five classes a day and he will translate from Tibetan to English.
“(Students) usually ask about monks’ lives, how we become monks, what is the purpose to be a monk,” Lobsang said.
Meeting His Holiness
Wangchuk said Tibetans believe His Holiness, the Dali Lama, is the Buddha of Compassion.
“My mind was made up a long time ago, he is not an ordinary being,” Wangchuk said. “He is a very special being.”
Wangchuk, a retired monk of over 40 years, said he has been a driver for the Dali Lama, was part of his security detail and stayed in the same house.
“If you ever have an opportunity to be near him, even for a second, you’ll have an experience. Even with 10,000 people you will have an experience. He has a presence,” Wangchuk said.
The Dali Lama’s approach to the Tibet and China conflict has been one of peaceful talks. Wangchuk said for 50 years Tibetans have not returned violence.
“So, if you ever have an opportunity to meet him in this life, go do it,” Wangchuk said.
The next stop on the tour for the group of six monks will be in Ohio. They will then spend time on the east coast and then move on to the west coast. They visit schools, museums, yoga centers and healing centers.
The monks will also have a ceremony of traditional dance at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Aalfs Auditorium in Slagle Hall.