11:54 AM

Buddhist monks return to UHCL, share spiritual traditions

For the second time since 2017, five Tibetan monks from the Gaden Shartse Norling Monastery in Mundgod, India have made University of Houston-Clear Lake a stop on their "Sacred Arts of Tibet" tour of the U.S. to share Buddhist philosophy and demonstrate the construction of a sacred mandala to students, faculty and the community.

The monks' visit, which will take place Sept. 27-Oct. 1, was arranged by Associate Professor of Sociology Stephen Cherry, and is sponsored by UH-Clear Lake's College of Human Sciences and Humanities.

The tour includes construction of a sand mandala, in-class lectures, two public lectures, and culminates in the ceremonial destruction of the sand mandala.

"By bringing them back to UHCL for another visit, I'm hoping that they'll be able to share their culture, share the arts of Tibet, and introduce people to their particular variety of Buddhism," Cherry said.

Cherry, a practicing Buddhist, said that his late teacher was from the same monastery and is the reason he was able to become closely connected to these monks.

"I brought the monks to UHCL the first time as a way to honor my teacher after his death, and I'm hoping that post-pandemic, UHCL can support them when they tour the U.S. every two years," he said. "It's a very valuable cultural, social and sociological experience. There's global interest in their perspective and in what they do."

The highlight of their visit is the construction of a sand mandala, which Cherry describes as a flat, architectural representation of a different path to Buddhahood. "It's a mnemonic of a practice; a visual representation of an aspect of the path to Buddhahood," he said. "The purpose of doing it publicly is not only to share the sentiment of offering peace, well wishes and spirituality to the community, it's also instructive into some of the key concepts of Buddhism."

The mandala, he explained, takes a very long time to make. "It's laid down, grain by grain, while praying and practicing," he said. "It's like making a picture of what their practice is — a visual prayer."

When it's complete, the mandala is swept up publicly, in order to remind people of the impermanence of all things. "The best part is hearing people gasp when the monks dissolve the mandala," Cherry said. "They say, 'Why destroy it?' Because the point is to appreciate it in the moment. The more varied students' experience can be, the deeper their education runs. We present them with things outside their experience and make them think. That's why we're here.

"Since the sentiments of the prayers and meditation are imbued into the sand, the monks will dump it into the bayou on campus," he continued. "It's symbolically and literally putting those well wishes and good spirits back into the environment."

Ahead of their visit, Cherry is offering a presentation in UHCL's Friday Morning Continuing Education series entitled, "Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and the Gelugpa Tradition" on Friday, Sept. 24 at 11 a.m. To attend Cherry's talk, register for the lecture online.

View the complete schedule listing of events during the monks' visit online.