Tibetan Buddhist monks focused on building bridges between different religious traditions during their visit to DePaul last week, creating a traditional sand mandala in the Lincoln Park Student Center in the process.
The monks, of the Drepung Gomang Monastery in Southern India, visited DePaul as part of their tour throughout the United States. They are spending a year in the U.S. to raise awareness about what is happening in Tibet, to teach about Buddhism and to raise money for their monastery. Aside from creating the sand mandala during their time spent at DePaul, they sold Tibetan handicraft and held a puja, a focused meditation and chanting.
“The monks are a part of one of the largest Tibetan monasteries outside of Tibet,” David Wellman, a professor in the department of religious studies, said. “Many Tibetans went into exile when the Chinese government took over in the 1940s, it was no longer a safe place for them to practice religion and today in China there are many efforts that are being made to diminish the presence of Tibetan people.”
The creation of a mandala is a form of meditation that takes patience and precision. Using chak-pur, which are small tubes and funnels, the monks apply small granules of colored sand onto a large canvas, following a pattern. While the process typically takes weeks, it was sped up due to time constraints.
After the mandala was finished, the monks dismantled and put all of the sand into an urn to symbolize the impermanence of life. They then poured the sand into the reflection pond outside of St. Vincent de Paul Parish.
The Center for Religion Culture and Community (CRCC) organized the event. The center’s aim is to increase students’ awareness and understanding of about different religious cultures.
“You do not have to be a practitioner of a religion to benefit from understanding religion and religious culture, because we are all living in different religious cultures,” CRCC director Thomas O’Brien said. “Studying religion is just like studying history or anthropology. It is a very important social science.”
O’Brien said he understands that the unfamiliarity of different religions can feel intimidating to students and prevent them from broadening their knowledge on such subjects. In bringing the monks to campus, he hoped to create another venue outside of going to church or a mediation practice for students to learn about different cultures and religious traditions.
The traditional creation of the mandala attracted much attention from DePaul students throughout the week. As it turned out, many already have some background knowledge and connection to Buddhism.
“I saw the fliers in my dorm building,” said Jack Bertran, a DePaul freshman. “My aunt went to Tibet a few years ago and she always talks about how cool it was and how the Buddhist Monks are so amazing and so I wanted to check it out.”
AJ Klopfenstein, a junior at DePaul, said he also was interested.
“In my religion class we talked about some of the biggest things that Buddhists do and I was really excited to get the chance to see them working,” he said. “It’s such an intricate design; it’s really cool.”
Freshman Michael Rasmussen believes that such events add to the cultural diversity found on campus.
“I think it’s great that even though I’m at the biggest Catholic university in the country, I have yet to see a Bible,” Rasmussen said. “I’ve seen more of different faiths and cultures than I have Catholicism.”