Ancient meets modern in Edmonds | Arts & Appetite

By Maria Montalvo | May 17, 2018
Courtesy of: Maria Montalvo Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery walk to a ceremony in Edmonds.

The Edmonds Center for the Arts became a sacred place during the week of May 7. Indeed, 10 Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta said any space could be sacred if the intention is there.

The monks are on an 18-month tour across the United States, and ECA invited them to Edmonds in order to share “a transformative experience of culture and kindness,” in the words of ECA Executive Director Joe McIalwain.

The Drepung Loseling Monastery is nearly 600 years old and relocated from Tibet to India in the 1960s after many Tibetans were forced into exile from China. A rotating group of monks share and hopefully preserve their cultural traditions, making small contributions toward world peace while creating greater awareness of the Tibetan situation.

Since my husband and I had recently travelled to Dharamsala, India, for an audience with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and to meet many of these Tibetans-in-exile, it was even more special to meet many of the exiles right here in Edmonds (organized in collaboration with the Tibetan Association of Washington).

The ECA program was actually a five-day residency, all open to the public, with the monks creating a mandala sand painting in the lobby of the center. A mandala is a “sacred cosmogram” used as an object of contemplation or meditation, and it is made entirely from sand – tiny, fine, brightly colored grains of sand.

The monks crouch over a table and painstakingly draw with the sand, creating a stunning and beautiful depiction of the cosmos or mystical path of meditation.

It seemed impossible that they could maintain such positive energy and exacting attention to detail over such a long tour of five-day programs (six hours each day creating the mandala as well as four performances). Geshe Tenzin Phoentsok, the monk who acted as spokesperson, explained that despite their busy touring schedule, they are always energized by the joy and kindness offered to them by people across America.

On May 11, the monks performed “The Mystical Arts of Tibet” with a combination of multiphonic chanting, music and dance. I found the demonstration of how they practice their ancient art of debate fascinating, portraying how the discussion is nearly like a dance and punctuated by loud claps of the hands.

Each part of the show seemed to combine laughter, rapt attention, nearly hypnotic sounds and sights and representations of brilliant skill.

The culmination of the week was the closing ceremony, where the monks actually destroy the mandala and return it to a collection of grains of sand, representing constant change and the transitory nature of life.

The process included closing meditations and chants, while one monk brushes the sand together, creating a newly beautiful image, prior to brushing all of the sand together. After collecting the sand and giving small amounts to all who participated, the group began a procession to the private home that hosted the last stage of the mandala closing ceremony.

I will always remember the moment 10 monks walked down Third Avenue North in Edmonds on Saturday afternoon, wearing their vibrant orange-and-maroon robes and bright yellow hats, followed by about 50 local residents in mostly jeans, T-shirts and sneakers.

We created quite the distracting scene to unknowing folks strolling in the afternoon sun or driving to their next errand.

It is sometimes easy to see our differences more easily than our similarities, but everyone who experienced part of the week at ECA likely understood what the Dalai Lama meant when he said, “My fundamental belief is that we are all the same as human beings. We don’t need an introduction when we meet because we are mentally, physically, emotionally the same.”


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