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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Prague gets taste of Tibetan culture

October 31, 2008

Eight solitary monks tour Europe to promote harmony and plea for
prisoner's release
By Curtis M. Wong, Staff Writer, cwong@praguepost.com
The Prague Post (Czech Republic)
October 29, 2008 issue

The monks gathered beneath prayer flags at New Town Hall Oct. 24 for
a mandala, a meditation vehicle involving shaping multicolored sand
into symbolic patterns.

MICHAEL HEITMANN/The Prague Post

The mandala, after six days of work, was brought to the shores of the
Vltava, where the monks brushed the sands together and allowed it to
blow into the river, serving as a blessing to the nation and beyond.

Four Tibetan monks, draped in robes of maroon and gold, are seated on
the floor of the New Town Hall beneath colorful prayer flags, shaping
rainbow-colored sand into floral and symbolic patterns across a
rectangular plank not unlike a board game. Deliberately appearing
deaf amid a gaggle of onlookers, the monks are diligent in their
work, painstakingly crafting the designs with metal tubes and rarely
stopping for a break.

This extremely intricate form of sand painting is known as a mandala,
meant as a meditation tool and said to aid in attaining
enlightenment. In a few hours, this mandala -- requiring six days of
work — would be brought to the shores of the Vltava, where the monks
would symbolically brush the patterns together and allow the
multicolored sand to blow into the river's murky waters in an effort
to spread blessings to the entire nation and beyond.

The creation of the mandala was just one in a series of
Tibetan-related events, which also included a sacred masked dance
performance, held over six days in Prague over the week of Oct. 20.
The Czech Republic is one of several European stops scheduled for the
brothers of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery, a settlement in the Mysore
district of South India which is home to a total of 250 Tibetan monks
who work in solitary exile.

Spreading peace

"In creating the mandala, we are aiming to spread peace to everyone
-- that's the idea," said Kelknang Rinpoche, one of the eight
traveling Tashi Lhunpo monks. Together, the monks will also visit
France, Spain and England in an effort to develop awareness of
Tibetan issues and culture, before returning to India in mid-November.

"Most Western people know a bit about Tibet and the situation there,
but what they don't know much about is our heritage," Rinpoche said.
"Our culture is dying inside Tibet, and we basically want to show the
whole world what our culture is about."

According to Rinpoche, the brothers hope the European events serve an
altruistic purpose as well. In May 1995, the six-year-old Gedun
Choekyi Nyima, identified by the Dalai Lama as the 11th reincarnation
of the high-ranking Tibetan scholar Panchen Lama, became the world's
youngest political prisoner when he vanished alongside his family.
While other family members have since been released, Gedun Choekyi
Nyima's whereabouts are still unknown, though he is widely believed
to be held captive in a Chinese prison.

"We're looking at these events as a way to bring peace, harmony and
happiness to the world, but also as a cry for help, because Gedun
Choekyi Nyima is in prison at the moment," Rinpoche said. He added
that the Tashi Lhunpo monks are optimistic, praying daily for Nyima's return.

Tibet has been under Chinese military occupation since 1951. This has
long been controversial, as the Chinese government and the Government
of Tibet in Exile disagree whether the political subordination is
legitimate and in accordance with international law.

"The Tibetan autonomous region is part of China, and the Chinese
government pays great [attention] to this region and the protection
of its culture," said Peng Bin, first political secretary of the
Chinese Embassy in Prague, adding that the region's population and
average life expectancy have increased in recent years.

"Tibetan language is taught in primary schools, and Tibetan culture
is part of daily life in the region," he said. "Citizens there enjoy
religious freedom as they do elsewhere in China."

Tibetan government officials view Chinese rule as colonial,
oppressive and in violation of citizens' rights to self-rule.
Currently, no country officially recognizes Tibet as an independent
state, despite various instances of international officials
petitioning to do so.

Creating a discussion

"We don't have religious or political freedom in Tibet, so these
events are helping to create discussion — not just religious and
political, but also cultural -- about our country," Rinpoche said.

According to organizer Sandra Pikorová, Tibetan causes have
traditionally received strong support in the Czech Republic, possibly
as a result of the country's history of communist oppression.

"Having lived in a country that used to be occupied itself, Czechs
can certainly identify with the situation in Tibet," said Pikorová,
before adding that she and her husband have been longtime supporters
of Tibetan issues. "Obviously, anything that helps [Tibet] is very
important, and the response has been really great."

Rinpoche agreed. "Under the communist regime, the same thing that's
happening in Tibet also happened to the Czechs, so they can really
identify with the suffering our people have experienced."

In addition to the political solidarity, the number of Czech citizens
interested in Buddhism has been steadily increasing in recent years.
"People in our nation are really searching for their own
spirituality," Pikorová said, noting that former President Václav
Havel was one of the first European diplomats to invite the Dalai
Lama to visit. "I think most people who identify themselves as
atheist are simply unsatisfied with what's being offered to them in
terms of religion."
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