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<-Back to WTN Archives Himalayan high Tibetan Buddhist monks mix practice & politics at Bard
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

9. Himalayan high Tibetan Buddhist monks mix practice & politics at Bard

Ulster Publishing Company

March 4, 2004 by Zhemyna Jurate Like deserts, there's something about
extremely high mountains that is conducive to the founding of ascetic
religions and tends to elicit transports of mystical experience. Whether
it's the staggering scenery, altitude sickness or being physically closer to
some sky-dwelling deity than at sea level, spending time in the Himalayas
just seems to do something to people that, for lack of a less-abused word,
must be called spiritual.

Tibetan Buddhist monasteries have operated continuously for centuries as
centers of learning and pilgrimage in lands where few other people actually
dwell, and animist prayer wheels have been spinning in the thin mountain air
since before the time of Siddhartha Gautama himself. Even folks who fancy
themselves worldly and sophisticated are not immune; consider the mass
popularity in America of books like James Hilton's fanciful Lost Horizon or
Peter Matthiessen's more earnest The Snow Leopard. And The Man Who Skied
Down Everest is probably the most "spiritual" sports movie ever filmed.

Treks around the Annapurna-Dhaulagiri circuit have become the definitive
"adventure travel" option for increasing numbers of Western tourists in
search of an oxygen-deprived peak experience with religious overtones. But
for those of us who can't afford to stock up on technical mountaineering
gear, fly to Kathmandu and hire a team of Sherpa guides, it's a challenge to
find a means to comprehend the deep significance of that roof-of-the-world
pilgrimage that isn't filtered through a Western lens. Next Wednesday
evening, March 10, we'll have a rare chance to hear it from the mouths of
some native practitioners, as seven Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Tashi
Lhunpo Monastery - who have been living in exile since 1972 in Bylakuppe in
southern India - pay a visit to Bard College.

The original Tashi Lhunpo was founded in Shigatse, Tibet, in 1447 by the
first Dalai Lama. One of four great monasteries of the Gelugpa tradition, it
has produced thousands of renowned scholars in the fields of Mahayana and
Tantric philosophy. It is also the seat of the Panchen Lama, considered the
second most important Tibetan Buddhist religious leader after the Dalai
Lama. The plight of the Panchen Lama under China's occupation of Tibet will
be part of a free panel discussion conducted by Bard faculty members and the
visiting monks titled "Tibet: The Issues," which will take place at 5 p.m.
in Manor Lounge.

Following the panel at 7 p.m., the monks, attired in richly ornamented,
multicolored costumes, will perform a sacred masked cham dance, accompanied
by narration and Tibetan music, as well as healing chants. Perhaps the most
interesting aspect of the evening's offerings will be a demonstration of
monastic debate as traditionally practiced as a scholarly exercise at Tashi

But as we all know, Tibet is no Shangri-La to Buddhists in the decades since
its forcible annexation to China, and modern-day politics is the inevitable
other side of the coin of any discussion of Tibetan history and culture. So
the main thrust of the Bard panel will be an examination of the current
state of relations with China and free-Tibet activism in Western countries.
"This performance marks the 45th anniversary of the Tibetan National
Uprising Day," notes Tenzin Lama, founder of the Bard chapter of Students
for a Free Tibet, the primary sponsor of the event.

The visitation of the Tashi Lhunpo monks takes place at Olin Hall. Although
the event is technically free and open to the public, a voluntary donation
of $5 is requested to help support the operations of the monastery-in-exile.
The Bard campus is but one stop on a world fundraising tour by the monks,
who will be selling their newly released CD, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery: Sacred
Instrumental Music. It is also available from their website,, or from For further information about this
event, call (845) 758-6822 or e-mail

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Statement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the Forty-Fifth Anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day
  2. Tibetans in Nepal defy ban on rallies to mark uprising anniversary (AFP)
  3. Dharamsala: the tourist town the Tibetan exodus built (AFP)
  4. Website offers 22,000-dollar reward for information on Panchen Lama (AFP)
  5. Tibetan martyrs remembered in memorial service
  6. East meets West in Swiss Tibet (SI)
  7. Xinhua 10 March 2004 Qinghai-Tibet railway to shore up tourists to world's roof (Xinhua)
  8. A struggle for spiritual freedom in China (WP)
  9. Himalayan high Tibetan Buddhist monks mix practice & politics at Bard

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