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Column: Monks return to campus to share culture

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Tibet can seem a long distance away from central Indiana, but from Friday to Sept. 18, Tibet will be as close as Franklin College.

Two years ago, Franklin College was blessed to have Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist monks on campus. All who were at the college at the time have great memories of that visit.

For four days, the monks sat for hours at a time on the floor of the campus center and created a sand painting or mandala for world peace. I still smile when I remember the change in the college community during those four days. On the first day of their visit, students, faculty, and staff looked puzzled as they passed the monks on their way to the dining hall. It was as if we all had the same question—Who are these guys with shaved heads and why are they huddled in a circle on the floor?

On the second day, more of the college community stopped to watch the monks as they carefully laid out colored sand in intricate patterns. Perhaps the fact that few of the monks could speak English made it easier for us to watch and exchange nods. Or perhaps it was the sight of the monks taking their meals in the dining hall that melted our suspicions.

By Day 3, the group watching the monks was five and six deep. A table of inexpensive Tibetan and Mongolian goods also drew our attention.

On Day 4, the mandala was completed and, to everyone’s surprise, the crowd of students, staff and faculty that came to the closing was the largest crowd we’ve had in the atrium of the campus center. The one comment that I heard over and over again was, “We don’t want the monks to leave.”

These quiet monks had brought something special to our campus.

Maybe this didn’t register for all of us at the time, but these monks had a perfect right to complain about their precarious political position in the world, with Tibetan culture being systematically destroyed by China. But the monks uttered not one word of complaint or anger. Instead, the monks seemed to embody the mandala’s theme of peace, and the world seemed a smaller and more humane place because of their visit.

And now the monks are returning to Franklin College thanks to the generosity of the Tibetan-

Mongolian Buddhist Center in Bloomington and to the coordinating work of one of Franklin College’s alumnae, Lisa Morrison.

The monks will again be creating a sand mandala, this one dedicated to compassion, in the campus center.

The timing could not be more fitting. As the darkness of Syria pervades the news, it will be healing to watch these monks from halfway around the world create for us a monument to the power of compassion.

The monks also will be presenting a program on Tibetan culture on Sept. 17 in the Franklin College chapel from 7 to 8 pm. The event focusing on Tibetan art and music is open to the public and is free of charge.

Besides this being an entertaining evening, there is another reason to attend this event. Tibetan culture can be compared to a rare beautiful bird, one, unfortunately, that is threatened with extinction. The celebration of Tibet that evening will be a chance for all of us in the community to stand with the monks and the Tibetan people as we say, “The world needs the unique beauty of Tibetan culture. Let this culture survive and flourish.”

David Carlson is a professor of philosophy and religion at Franklin College and the author of “Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World” available in bookstores or on Amazon.com. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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