Can you give some background on the Drepung Loseling Monastery?
The Drepung Loseling Monastery that the monks come from now was relocated in South India, in the state of Karnataka. It was reestablished in Karnataka in 1969. Originally the monastery was established in Tibet in 1416, near the capital Lhasa. This was one of the biggest Tibetan monasteries and at its zenith it had about 10,000 monks in training. But in 1959, when the Chinese invaded Tibet, thousands and thousands, including this monastery, were closed. Many of its monks were imprisoned or killed. A few hundred managed to escape into exile in India and that is where they gathered for ten years in Eastern India in a place called Buxadura. They continued with their traditional contemplations and religious studies. Eventually the Indian government found places for Tibetans to resettle. Camps were formed in South India and eventually monks moved and built their monastery.
This monastery in South India has now about 2,500 monks. Back in 1988 the monastery sent a group of monks to share Tibetan sacred arts and culture with the West so they traveled on a Mystical Arts of Tibet tour. As a result of that, someone offered a piece of land in Georgia, not far from Atlanta, to build a meditation center and monastery. So in 1991, the Drepung Loseling Insititute, as a seat of that monastery, was officially established in Atlanta.
What is the mission of Mystical Arts of Tibet?
Mytical Arts of Tibet has been an ongoing tour since 1996. Before we had been on a few tours but not every year. The tours have three basic purposes. Firstly, to promote peace and healing in the world by performing Tibetan sacred arts, chants, and prayers. Secondly, we hope to raise awareness about the current Tibetan situation in hopes that increased awareness will result in some peaceful resolution in Tibet. Thirdly, to raise much needed funds to provide the basic needs and education for the ever-increasing monks at the Drepung Loseling Monastery as well to raise funds for other Tibetan institutions in India.
Do you feel that American understanding of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism has grown significantly?
It is absolutely growing. The awareness about Tibet has changed dramatically. Back in the late 1980s when we made our first tour, there were many places where people had no idea where Tibet was or basic principles of Tibetan Buddhism. But now I think there is a tremendous amount of awareness about Tibet and basic understanding of Buddhism. Clearly meditation has become so popular in the US, even within the scientific communities. Not just the Buddhist forms of meditation are studied. But there certainly have been many studies specifically on Tibetan Buddhist meditation and its benefits for health and well-being. So for various reasons, I think there is a tremendous interest in contemplative Eastern traditions.
This Sand Mandala event at the Asia Society is a gift to New York City. What message do you want to send on this two-year anniversary of September 11?
It is a gift for New Yorkers, but also for all Americans on behalf of Tibetans. Our purpose is to create this mandala with prayers for peace and protection. We would like to convey that Tibetans really feel the pain of so many of the victims no matter where these types of tragedies occur. Our hope in creating this sand mandala is that it will bring some benefit in terms of healing and peace for the people who died on September 11 as well as people who are still suffering their losses.
Interview conducted by Cindy Yoon of Asia Society.