Friday, June 2, 2006

Monkeying around in Sun Valley

Visitors from monastery charm valley with music and laughter

Express Staff Writer

The Deprung Loseling monks pour the sand mandala into the Big Wood River. Photo by Jim Grossman

After dinner in the Sun Valley Brewery Café in Hailey on Memorial Day, Jamba lets loose a low, burbling, multi-toned sound that must come from his throat but sounds like something other worldly and out of body. It's eerie and miraculous. Then a wide smile cracks across his solemn face and he giggles. Bright, clever and witty, all the Tibetan Monks of the Deprung Loseling Monastery in Dharmsala, India are like the Dalai Lama, memorable for their warm open smiles and infectious laughter.

Normally, the monks' daily routine involves 6 to 8 hours of study, meditation and scholarly debate. Their spokesperson Tendar speaks Hindi, Tibetan, English and Spanish, all fluently. They are also known for their sacred music and dance performances. While in the valley they performed their unusual multiphonic singing at the Sun Valley Mountain Wellness Festival, and created a sand mandala at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, which sponsored them as part of its Art of Tibet exhibition.

On Monday, May 29, the monk's sand mandala was completed. It was made by pouring millions of grains of sand from traditional metal funnels called chakpur. The finished mandala was approximately five feet by five feet in size. Created at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, the theme of this mandala was compassion.

A ceremony blessing the mandala was held with approximately 300 people in attendance. They were able to enjoy it for about an hour before the monks dismantled the creation by sweeping the sand into a vessel, symbolizing the impermanence of life. Witnesses said that when Deprung Loseling monks swept away the creation there was an audible gasp. The monks, audience and the vessel then headed to the Broadway Bridge at Rotary Park in Ketchum, Monday at 3 p.m. where they poured out the sand, releasing the mandala's energy into the river to spread to the world.

But life in the valley over the five days they were here didn't stop after each ceremony. They stayed at the Ellsworth Inn and the Sun Valley Center, both in Hailey, charming fellow occupants and visitors. A familiar sight during their visit was the troop of saffron clad monks walking the streets in Hailey.

"The monks rocked. They totally did," the Center's Performing Arts director Kathryn Maguet said. "They had a very interesting experience here."

At the invitation of Soto Zen practitioner Myohei Genshin Sensei, the evening of Memorial Day the monks journeyed south to meditate and chant in their unique way, with members of the Being Peace Center in Hailey. Afterwards, members and the monks had dinner together at the Sun Valley Brewery. Trying to interview them was a bit tricky. They tend to giggle no matter what the questions. This was their last stop on their spring 2006 performing tour after visiting a couple dozen cities. Each year, two different group of monks are chosen to go on tour and visit 150 cities around the world in total.

Soanm is the smallest of the monks in this group. He speaks very little English but in between bouts of giggling conveyed that he had come to India, like many of his cohorts, by climbing over the Himalayas. That was in 1986, when he was 18 years old. Not long after he was accepted to the Deprung Loseling Monastery and has lived there ever since.

Tenzin Dondup was born in India to Tibetan parents. He has been at the monastery for 15 years. When asked how he was enjoying his first visit to the U.S., he said, "All different here, skin color, people, colors all different." Then he too giggled.

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