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Tibetan Buddhist monks visit Carbondale for Compassion Days

Jessica Cabe
jcabe@postindependent.com
Monks work with small, pen-like utensils to pour sand in intricate patterns when making a sand mandala.
Courtesy photo |

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

4 p.m. Friday: The monks will bless Mountain Fair at Sopris Park.

10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday: The monks will have a booth at Mountain Fair, where you can visit and learn more about them and Tibetan culture.

Noon on Tuesday: Opening ceremony for the Chenrezig Sand Mandala at the Third Street Center. The monks will work on the mandala until 5 p.m.

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday: Monks will work on the sand mandala at the Third Street Center.

7 p.m. on Wednesday: Join the monks for a rare peek into their lives at the monastery at this event at the Third Street Center.

7 p.m. on Thursday: The monks will perform a Vajravidaran Healing Ritual associated with purification and health at the Third Street Center.

7 p.m. on Friday: Chenrezig (Buddha of Compassion) Empowerment at the Third Street Center

10:30 a.m. on Saturday: Tara Puja at True Nature, a ritual of sacred music and chant

5 p.m. on Saturday: Sand Mandala Dissolution Ceremony at the Third Street Center

After blessing Mountain Fair and sharing information on their culture and beliefs at one of the fair’s booths, a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks from Gaden Shartse Monastery will lead a week’s worth of activities for the first annual Carbondale Compassion Days.

The monks will give a cultural presentation on Wednesday evening and share religious rituals on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but the main event will be the creation and dissolution of a sand mandala — Carbondale’s first.

“The idea of a sand mandala is to create an environment of compassion and to bless the whole area,” said John Bruna, founder and director of the Way of Compassion Foundation, which is organizing Carbondale Compassion Days. “So these monks will use these chalk pourers, these little utensils, and create this elaborate representation of, essentially, the Buddha of Compassion’s celestial paradise. And then the community can come and watch this.”

The monks will work on the sand mandala next Tuesday through Saturday, with a dissolution ceremony at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The sand will be swept up, and the mandala will take a new form.

“A lot of people think you destroy a mandala,” Bruna said. “And I say, well, you don’t destroy it — it takes a new form, and it lives on with a higher purpose.”

Anyone who attends the dissolution ceremony will receive a baggy of the sand from the mandala, and the remaining sand will go in the river.

“It goes on and spreads blessings throughout the whole valley,” Bruna said. “Some people use it to bless their own property, and the river carries it on. And sometimes it’s just a little bag of sand to remember a really wonderful time visiting a culture that is filled with love and compassion.”

The public is invited to watch the monks create the mandala at any point over the five days. Donations are suggested, and all money raised will support the monastery and the monks on their tour.

Aside from the sand mandala, Bruna said the event he thinks the public will be most interested in is a presentation by the monks at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. It is not a religious event, but rather a cultural one that will offer a glimpse into the monks’ daily lives at the monastery.

“It’s a night of Tibetan culture and monastic life, so it’s a peek behind the scenes of life in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery,” Bruna said. “And these monks have personality. Everyone has this idea that monasteries are these quiet, solemn places. They clearly have not been to a Tibetan monastery. We’re loud — we chant, there are horns, there’s debate and hand-slapping, and it’s vibrant, and there are thousands of monks. It’s like a little city.”

Bruna was a monk in Gaden Shartse Monastery for six years, so he should know. He found his way to the monastery after a lifetime surrounded by drugs, alcohol and violence.

“I actually, about 32 years ago, lived under the bridge over I-70 where it crosses by Palisade,” he said. “From that really desperate way of living and the harm that I did to others in my life, I got a chance almost 31 years ago to change my life.”

Aside from being a monk, Bruna has worked as a counselor, teacher, mechanic and the senior account manager of a health care corporation. He’s given talks at prisons and juvenile halls as well as colleges and universities. This variety of life experiences has made it easy for him to communicate ideas of compassion and mindfulness to a wide variety of people. And that’s important in this business of ending suffering because, as Bruna has discovered, the experience of being human is more universal than many may believe.

“I’ve gotten to meet lots of people with multimillion dollar homes — believe it or not, they have stress, worry and fear,” Bruna said. “And people with very little income have stress, worry and fear. But I’ve also met people in wealthy homes that have much less stress, worry and fear and have happiness. And I’ve met people with very little in refugee settlements that are happy as well. And universally it’s true that it’s because they’re able to bring their awareness to the meaningful life that they’re living. Your suffering and emotional pain in life is not contingent on your outside circumstances; it’s basically how we respond to them.”

Bruna was inspired by the strong community of the valley to launch Carbondale Compassion Days, and he hopes the events will solidify the idea that we all benefit from one another’s happiness.

“When we think about anything that we have in our life, it’s because of others, right?” he said. “I learned to read and write in school, and who taught me? Where did my food come from, and my clothing? The reality of who we are as humans is that we tend to be really helpful, and we are kind. So what I’d really like out of this week is the opportunity to remind ourselves of our kindness, to remind ourselves of our desire and the benefits of helping each other, and what a gift it is to be in this valley.”


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