The 2020 Tour Monks at Gaden Shartse Monastery in South India with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in December 2019
Sierra Friends of Tibet sadly announces the postponement of the Tibetan Monks from Gaden Shartse visit to the Grass Valley/Nevada City and San Juan communities. After a long discussion at our last meeting on Sunday, March 8th it was decided that the unknown risks of the current virus spreading to many countries and to the United States made it clear that we should protect the health of our community, the Tibetan Monks and all are volunteers from these unknown risks. Risks are higher when people gather in large groups. It is a quickly evolving situation and no one knows what will happen.
Sierra Friends of Tibet thanks the Banner Community Guild, all the business who was poised to assist us, the Union and KVMR, the home owners who were going to invite the Monks into their homes, the people who were going to make lunches and dinners for the Monks, and the community for their support. We appreciate your understanding and continued belief in our work to raise awareness of Tibet. We know the Tibetan Monks will return when these unknown risks are resolved.
Gaden Sharste is at the forefront of the revival of Tibetan Monastic education, with more than 1600 resident students, teachers, scholars, and spiritual practitioners. More than 70% of the members are between the ages of 10 and 25 and 80% of these were born in Tibet. To this day, young monks arrive at the Monastery weekly from Tibet, seeking shelter and education. Due to the success of the academic program and the quality of the teachers at the monastery, Gaden Shartse has established a reputation as being the leader in the field of Buddhist and Tibetan studies.
After the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese in 1949, 48 surviving members of the College fled south across the border into India. There they settled in army tents in a remote jungle area that was about a night's journey from the city of Mysore. Slowly they built a mud and bamboo thatched dwelling in which the monks ate, slept, studied, debated, and prayed together. Many died from sickness and exhaustion; others survived but remained ill and bedridden. Those who survived became very resourceful, teaching themselves how to farm the land by means of trial and error. In 1972, three years after settling, their fields were green with their first successful crops. Fifteen Tibetan children from the local Tibetan refugee camp enrolled in the newly founded monastery, funded by the selling of the produce. A simple everyday routine was set up, combining education with physical labor. A rudimentary teaching staff of Tibetans, well‑versed in history and Buddhist teachings, was established.
Today an in‑depth education are offered in all aspects of Buddhist philosophy and practice is the focal point of the academic program at Shartse. The duration of the monastic program is 24 years. The students interact with their teachers on a daily basis. Accommodation, food, and instruction are all free and are provided by the monastic administration. Shartse offers complete basic courses in Tibetan History, Literature, Poetry, Grammar, English, and Mathematics, which are studied as prerequisites for the more advanced courses of Elementary Dialectics, Buddhist Logic, the Prajnaparamita (the study of Wisdom/ the Heart Sutra), Madhyamika Philosophy, Vinaya (Ethics), and Abidharma (Epistemology).
The Monks will be making a sand mandala. Mandala means literally "that which extracts the essence." There are many different types of mandalas used by Tibetan Buddhists. They can be created in either two or three dimensions. The ones on the monks' tour will be two‑dimensional sand mandalas. These are without doubt the most creative, labor‑intensive, and concentration‑intensive of all mandalas created. The ones provided on the tour will require between 75 and 125 hours of effort, completed by several monks at a time. Each sand mandala represents the architectural layout of the entire palace of a specific deity.This year the Monks will create a Dukar sand mandala for the first time since 2001 when a terrible tragedy struck the community at the Mental Health Building and a fast food restaurant. The Sanskrit name for the Dukar deity is Ushnisha Sitatapatra [Tibetan: du kar] which can also be translated as "The Victorious White Parasol." Her parasol indicates her ability to protect sentient beings from natural catastrophes, diseases, and so forth. She is white in color, because the principal means by which she accomplishes this function is the enlightenment energy of pacification.
Ushnisha Sitatapatra is a female form of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Like him in his elaborate form, she also has a thousand eyes that watch over living beings, and a thousand arms that protect and assist them. Thus she symbolizes the power of active compassion. To the learned Tibetan Buddhist monk, the mandala represents his vision of the entire universe. Upon completion of the mandala, the monks will purposely destroy the magnificent work of art. The Buddha's last words were "All things are impermanent, work out your salvation with diligence." In upholding the principle that life is transient, the monks sweep up the mandala and place the sand in a river, lake, or ocean as an offering to purify the surrounding environment.