From the outside, it appears an unlikely place to meditate over anything but engine grease.
Yet just behind Moab City Hall, in the far end of a vehicle maintenance shop, dozens of people sit crosslegged on pillows, eager to absorb the ancient wisdom flowing from two Buddhist monks.Transformed from a garage into the Transcendance Studio, the mirrored room reflects the faces of these seekers - people looking for soul-inspiring words to lift their spirits above the hectic pace of modern life, if only for a few hours.
Ngawang Phende talks animatedly in his native tongue, his cross-legged posture a model for his students. Tenzin Dhargye sits beside him, translating his words into a quiet English that underscores the inner peace he has found amid turmoil.
Exiled from their native Tibet, the monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery are in the sixth year of a world tour to "promote peace and harmony" in a hemisphere where peace is sometimes taken for granted. "America is a free nation - the people have freedom and choices unlike in Tibet, where there has been no freedom of choice in spiritual practices since the Chinese took over in 1959," says Dhargye.
That invasion cost 1.2 million Tibetan lives, as well as the destruction of 6,000 ancient temples and monasteries. Of the 10,000 monks that populated the country, only 250 managed to escape. The rest were massacred.
The survivors started a monastery in India, and their numbers have grown to 2,500. Now Dhargye and nine other monks tour cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico, not only to spread their message of peace and nonviolence, but to help keep their culture alive in the world consciousness. The Tibetan way of life "was born out of many great spiritual masters and has endured more than 2,500 years, going back to the time of Buddha," Dhargye says.
The monks have come to Moab for a weeklong festival of sacred music and dance to share their spiritual insights, as well as their cultural traditions. For these Buddhists, the two are inseparable.
Events include lectures on meditation, working with emotions, sacred music and dance, death and dying and sound as medicine for healing.
On Thursday night, the monks began creating a sand mandala at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center. The sand painting is composed of millions of grains of colored sand, "probably 8 feet diameter. It takes four monks working simultaneously over several days to produce it," says Rene Lafaurie, director of Transcendance Studio and organizer of the week's events.
When the mandala is finally finished on Tuesday, "they'll sweep it up and take the sand to a nearby canyon, where it's sifted or poured into the water, which channels it to the big oceans and all parts of the world for healing," says Lafaurie.
Besides the mandala and the lectures, the monks will also perform elaborate multiphonic temple music and masked dances, as well as participate in a multicultural festival celebrating Prayer for Peace Day on Sunday at the Old City Park (see accompanying box for dates, locations and times of all events).
The monks are internationally known for their work on the soundtrack of the Golden Globe nominated film, "Seven Years in Tibet," and two of their CDs - "Sacred Tibetan Temple Music" and "Sacred Music, Sacred Dance," - have been listed on the top ten of U.S. New Age music charts.
Dhargye, who is the spokesman for the group, says five of the 10 monks in Moab this weekend escaped the Chinese invasion of Tibet and helped found the monastery in India, where they learned the traditions and culture of their native land. Their tour is "part of a fund-raising project, because we're now all living in exile. There is much struggle being a refugee. Before the Chinese took over, the community supported the monastery, but now that we're living in exile, we're struggling for survival. We're very dependent on the West for financial support."
The group has been "very well-received - people are very responsive and gracious to us," Dhargye says, acknowledging a great spiritual thirst among those he has visited with. "People are looking to the importance of spiritual practices, particularly in the big industrial nations," he says. "They face a lot of stress and problems created by the high tech society they live in. So people are very receptive and very open-minded because they can find happiness through spiritual practice."
Regardless of religious background, Dhargye says all people can benefit from the "means and methods of spiritual practice" the monks teach because they are so basic. "We just share our understanding of those practices and provide an opportunity for people to experience them. If they find it helpful, we encourage them" to practice the meditation and conscious awareness techniques they share.
What it all boils down to are the same basic principles that permeate all major religions, Dhargye says.
"We try to share the importance and value of love and compassion as a basis for non-violent practices. We need more harmony in society. We're trying to get people to understand how to reduce anger and hatred. These are principles shared by everyone who understands the true pursuit of happiness."
For more information on the Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery, see their Web site at (www.xmission.com/(tilde)urimike/tibet).
List of activities Activities with Tibetan Monks include:
- Evening performance of temple music and masked dances at Grand County High School auditorium, 7:30 p.m., suggested donation $10.
- Multi-cultural Prayer for Peace Day on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Old City Park. Includes children's corner with crafts and storytelling. Suggested donation, $15.
- Closing ceremonial ritual, Moab Arts and Rec Center at 3 p.m. Tuesday.