Tibetans work a-monk-st community

Gannon University has become a hotbed for monks – but not the kind you’d expect at a Catholic university.

These monks – from the Gaden Shartse Monastery – will make the campus their home until Friday as they offer students a glimpse into the life of a Buddhist.

The six visitors, in the midst of a nationwide tour, are only a few of the 1,100 Gaden Shartse Monastery monks residing in a refugee cell in South India. They were forced to flee their original complex, in the Tibetan Mountains, during the Chinese invasion in the 1950s.

According to Jangchub Chophel, an American-born monk, the purpose of their 22-month World Peace tour is to advance the perception of Buddhists and show that, despite invasion and destruction, their customs will live on.

“We’re here to preserve a culture that could slip away from this planet,” he said.

Since February 2010, the monks have been traveling cross country in nothing more than a van and 10-foot trailer, visiting both coast lines and everywhere in between.

They landed in America nearly two years ago, but the journey started well before that. These hand-picked monks had to undergo nearly one year of training to ensure they memorized their prayers and duties and could overcome any logistical problems.

Although they’ve been on the go since around the time the 2010 Winter Olympics ended, the monks will be confined largely to the Wright Room in the Waldron Campus Center during the week. There, they’ll spend the days working on a sand mandala – a diagram that represents the dwelling place of a deity – dedicated to the Buddha of compassion.

The mandala, which takes four eight-hour days to complete, will be dissolved on Friday with the monks keeping half of the sand and the other half of the blessed sand being spread throughout nearby waters, including Lake Erie.

“The sand reminds us that nothing lasts forever and that every day is a beautiful day,” Chophel said.

In addition to working long hours on the Mandala, the monks have hosted nightly seminars to educate those interested in the ins and outs of their lives.

Wednesday, they’ll show their daily routine through pictures as the monks will employ a slideshow to detail life in a monastery. A discussion about Buddhism’s influence on the modern world is scheduled for Thursday.

It was after seeing the monks at neighboring Edinboro University that Dr. Becky Willow, an associate professor in Gannon’s community counseling program, decided to book them to come to Gannon.

The monks will make the return trip to India in December.

“I saw them last year and I thought, ‘Why couldn’t we do this at Gannon?’” she said. “I’m excited to see them interact with the Gannon community.”

But it took answered prayers to actually get the monks on campus as problems posed by logistics and funding proved  arduous to solve before receiving donations from the Schuster Art fund and Activities Programming Board.

“It was very stressful – we had to plan they were coming on blind faith,” Willow said. “Finding funding was hard – it was pretty much just me going around begging for money.”

But Willow wears many robes. She’s more than the chief fundraiser – she also serves as hostess for the monks.

“We wouldn’t have them back if it didn’t go well,” said Willow, whose house has become a bed and breakfast for the week. “They’re a joy to have around.”

ZACK MCDERMOTT

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