One of the main events during a visit by Tibetan Buddhist monks is the creation of a sand mandala that will take five days to complete. Submitted photo

Sharing Tibetan Buddhist culture in Penticton

Tibetan monks offer cultural performances and teachings

The Penticton Art Gallery is hosting a special group of visitors this week, giving locals a chance to experience a culture that is often hidden behind monastery walls.

Over the course of five days, a group of Tibetan Buddhist Monks, from the Drepung Loseling Monastery will present a full program of cultural events with the main focus being the construction of a sand mandala in the Penticton Art Gallery’s main gallery. The opening ceremony will take place on Sept. 13 (1 p.m.), and continue through Sept. 17 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

The sand mandala will be ongoing most of the time the monks are in Penticton, from the opening ceremony with chanting, music and mantra recitation to consecrate the site and call for the forces of goodness.

Over five days, the monks will lay the coloured sands that make up the intricate designs.

Irene Lee, executive director of Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc., said it takes four monks working around the table about 20 to 25 hours to create a four-foot mandala, roughly 100 man-hours altogether.

The mandalas are created for many purposes, as a focus in the monk’s training, for example.

“Other times they can create a mandala for a community when prayers are needed after a natural disaster,” said Lee.

In this case, they are sharing a beautiful element of Tibetan Buddhism, but Lee explains that the monks also see sharing the sacred art form as an offering.

“They go through different communities to promote peace and healing through this art form,” said Lee.

Endorsed by the Dalai Lama, the tour has three basic purposes: to make a contribution to world peace and healing, to generate a greater awareness of the endangered Tibetan civilization and to raise support for the Tibetan refugee community in India.

Lee said the Drepung Loseling Monastery was re-established in South India by a small group of exiled Tibetan monks and has now grown to 3,000 members.

The monks will also be presenting their Sacred Music, Sacred Dance performance at the Cleveland Theatre on Sept. 16, with a shorter afternoon program, and a two-hour evening show.

That includes the monks’ famed multiphonic chanting, where each of the chantmasters simultaneously intones three notes, creating a complete chord.

“They do this style of chanting at the monastery for different prayers. They also have a style of chanting that is more rhythmic and unique to their monastery,” said Lee.

The performance also includes ritual dances and traditional instruments like 10-foot long dung-chen horns, drums, bells, cymbals and gyaling trumpets.

“We have a debate demonstration as part of our performance program. That is very common in some of the Tibetan monasteries, they use this as a tool to deepen the understanding of what ever topic they are choosing to study,” said Lee.

Lees said the monks look forward to the tours, not only because some have never been out of India, but also because they enjoy meeting people and learning about different cultures.

Lee said the details haven’t been finalized yet, but in addition to the programs organized by the gallery, the Get Bent Active Arts Society is organizing a series of daily lectures and prayer ceremonies.

For more details, visits the Penticton Art Gallery online.