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World Healing, World Peace

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Festival of the Spirit introduces Sandpoint to Tibetan Monks

by Lama Yöntän Gonpo

Drepung Loseling monastery was established near Lhasa, Tibet in 1416 by Chojey Tashi Palden. It educated people not only from Tibet, but from regions as far north as Siberia and eastern Russia, to the Himalayan kingdoms in north India, growing to a population often to 15,000 monks. Drepung Loseling was especially close to the Dalai Lama incarnations; the Second Dalai Lama made his residence here in 1494 and subsequent incarnations maintained this link through the residence that he later built at Drepung, the Ganden Potrang.

For over 500 years the abbots of Drepung Loseling monasteries have been sending their monks and lamas out into the countryside in an effort to accomplish three things. First, to perform the rituals that encourage world peace through spiritual healing. Second, to bring direct benefit to the people and all other beings wherever they travel while keeping their culture alive in the world. And third, to help support their monasteries and their programs.

In times past this would require several dozen monks and lamas, together with cooks, herders and laborers involved in a wide variety of tasks. They would have to pack and transport all the yurts and tents needed to house such a large party as well as each person's own needs of clothing and personal belongings. It required a tremendous amount of food supplies, because in many cases it would take several days to travel between monasteries. Just the ritual instruments, costumes and paintings of the various meditational deities would require numerous yaks to haul them. There were, in many cases, as many as 100 yaks or even more, utilized to carry all equipment, provisions and other supplies needed to sustain a group of this size.

Travel was accomplished at a walking pace. Camp had to be set up and the cooking fires started before dark, their march would be halted in the late afternoon. Sufficient grass and water had to be found for the yaks and horses, which just like the travelers needed much rest. Dried yak dung was gathered for the cook fires as there was little wood available in this very harsh landscape. Traveling in this manner was very hard work and went on for weeks, even months at a time. Morning would come very early with the preparation of food for the day. Camp would be struck loading everything, once again, onto the yaks for another day's trek.

Thousands of Tibetans would travel likewise by foot, horse and yak, in some cases for many days themselves, so they could attend these very special gatherings. Spirituality, which in Tibet is Buddhism, was the central focus of almost every person's life. With roughly 14 percent of the population engaged in monastic life, almost every family had a son or daughter who was either a monk or a nun. There was tremendous support for the Buddhist tradition and the monasteries.

In some cases the rituals would last for just a few days but in many cases they would go on for several weeks. There was no set pattern. It depended on the time of year and the needs of those who hosted the travelers. For instance, if a very high lama had passed away, the final rites would take 42 days and nights of ritual to ensure a proper and successful passage into his or her next life. Another example would be the year-end purification ritual in preparation for the new year. This is called Losar and goes on for seven days and nights.

Intertwined with all the various rituals, the Drepung monks would always perform their very special practices and sand mandala for world healing and peace. Over hundreds of years they became famous for their development of multiphonic chanting. Although this type of vocalization. arose in other places, such as the country of Tuva, the Drepung Loseling monks were responsible for it's development within Tibetan Buddhism.

After the Chinese Communist invasion of Tibet in 1959 and the forced closure and destruction of its 6,500 monasteries, some 250 monks from Loseling managed to escape the holocaust and rebuilt their institution in Karnataka State, South India. This was a very small percentage of the 10,000 to 15,000 monks that populated the various Drepung Loseling Monasteries. The traditional training program was thus preserved and soon news of their existence spread through Central Asia.

Over the years, many more young spiritual aspirants have subsequently fled Chinese-occupied Tibet and sought entrance into the monastery in the hope of learning, and thus helping to preserve, their traditional culture. The number of monks presently in the re-established Loseling has swelled to more than 2,500.

Today, the group of travelers is much smaller and they travel much greater distances. Their mode of travel now is by car, by bus and by aircraft and they travel throughout entire planet. The practices and rituals are still the same and their intention and dedication to world peace thru world healing has only intensified. 

Their effort is best exemplified in the body and activities of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Since his first visit to the west in early 1973, a number of western universities and institutions have conferred Pence Awards and honorary Doctorate Degrees in recognition of His Holiness’ distinguished writings in Buddhist philosophy and for his leadership in the solution of international conflicts, human rights issues and global environmental problems. In presenting the Iboul Wallenberg Congressional Human Rights Award in 1989, U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos said, "His Holiness the Dalai Lama's courageous struggle has distinguished him as a leading proponent of human rights and world peace. His ongoing efforts to end the suffering of the Tibetan people through peaceful negotiations and reconciliation have required enormous courage and sacrifice."

The Norwegian. Nobel Committee’s decision to award the 1989 Peace Prize to His Holiness the Dalai Lama won worldwide praise and applause, with the exception of China. The Committee's citation read, "The Committee wants to emphasize the fact that the Dalai Lama, in his struggle for the liberation of Tibet, consistently has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people.

On 10 December 1989, His Holiness accepted the prize on the behalf of oppressed people everywhere and all those who struggle for freedom and work for world peace and the people of Tibet. In his remarks he said, "The prize reaffirms out conviction that with truth, courage and determination as our weapons, Tibet will be liberated. Our struggle must remain nonviolent and free of hatred."

This writer is an American, born of German decent with 25 years experience with Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan people. I would ask, can we, in the West, learn anything from this outstanding example that has blessed our community? 

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Festival of the Spirit, Tibet, Monks, peace

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