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Tibetan monks touring north Baltimore

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Visiting Baltimore to promote "universal peace and compassion," Geshe Nawang Tsondy, a Tibetan monk of the Dalai Lama's Drepung lineage, quickly endeared himself to students at Roland Park Country School on Friday .

"I wish you all the best on your coming exams," he said in English.

But the students' heartiest applause was for one of their own, Anjali Sunita, a 1999 graduate and now director of Baltimore Yoga Village, which has yoga studios in Mount Washington and Hampden.

Sunita, 31, arranged for Tsondy and seven other monks to come to Baltimore as part of their year-long tour of the U.S. that began in January.

Their stay in north Baltimore continues this week and the public is invited to participate in activities ranging from meditation to building an ornate sand mandala..

Upper school girls gathered in Roland Park Country School's Sinex Theater for a special assembly to meet the monks, who were not unlike the girls' own teachers, except that they wore robes, had shaved heads and chanted.

In fact, Tsondy's title, Geshe, translates as "high teacher."

Their talk was moderated by Kaliq Simms, director of diversity and equity education at Roland Park Country School. Simms knelt wit the monks on the Sinex stage.

"I'm glad I could get down, but I don't know if I can get back up," she said.

The monks practice Tibetan Buddhism, a religion led by the Dalai Lama as head monk. He is also the traditional leader of Tibet's government.

Deprung monks, whose roots date to 1416, lived in the Deprung Gomang monastery in Tibet, near the capital of Lhasa, until the invading Chinese government took over the country in 1959.

By then, 5,500 monks had studied there.

The 14th Dalai Lama fled to India with 100 followers to southern India, according to the visiting monks and the monastery's website, http://www.drepunggomang.com.

"We lost our country," Tsondy told the Roland Park Country School students.

Ten years later, 60 monks re-established the Deprung Gomang monastery on land in southern India, donated by the Indian government. Today, 2,000 monks live there. Their daily routine includes prayer, meditation, spiritual "debates," chanting, and, Tsondy told the students, visits to an "Internet cafe."

Butter sculptures

This is the second visit to Baltimore by a contingent of monks arranged by Sunita, who opened her first Baltimore Yoga Village location in 2007.

This year's visiting monks have already been to Louisville, Ky., home of the Deprung Gomang Institute, as well as to New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore and Chapel Hill, N.C. More scheduled stops include Chicago.

Their Baltimore visit started at Roland Park Country School and continued at Divine Life Church, an interfaith church at 5928 Falls Road, where they were scheduled to chant to start the service Friday evening. They were also scheduled to dance at First Unitarian Church downtown during a Tibetan Cultural Arts presentation.

Their weekend schedule included chanting and meditating at the Hampden and Mount Washington studios, and teaching families how to make butter sculptures at the Mount Washington studio in back of the Lake Falls Shopping Center at Falls Road and Lake Avenue.

Butter sculptures, an ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition, are considered sacred and often depict deities, flowers and animals. The art also demonstrates the Buddhist principle of impermanence.

On Memorial Day, they were scheduled to meditate at 8 a.m. at the Hampden studio, 3000 Chestnut Ave. And on Tuesday, they began a five-day project in the Mount Washington studio to make a sacred "sand mandala" painting out of grains of colored sand.

The public can stop by the yoga studio at Falls Road and Lake Avenue from May 30 to June 3 to watch the painstakingly created, 5-foot by 5-foot mandala take shape and to meet the monks.

In addition, each morning from 8 - 8:30 am at the Hampden and Mt. Washington studios, visitors can join the monks for seated meditations, according to the marketing firm.

Other activities of note this week for the public include a talk and Tibetan Cultural Pageant at First Unitarian Church on June 1, and the closing of the sand mandala ceremony June 3 at the yoga studio in Mount Washington.

New perspective

Tsondy, who served as a spokesman for the monks with assistance from Sunita, said the monks are here "to promote universal peace and compassion — and to share our traditions and Buddhist culture. And we try to find support for the Tibet cause."

He said they are also here to teach people "how to relax and how to get a new perspective on life."

In addition to raising awareness and enlightenment, they are also here to raise money for their monastery and for basic food and medical supplies. All donations are earmarked for the monastery, Sunita said.

As the knelt on the stage at Roland Park Country School, Kaliq Simms, the school's director of diversity and equity education, knelt with them.

students have studied world religions and knew a little bit about Tibetan-Buddhism philosophy.

One girl told the monks, "In order to be enlightened, you have to give up desire."

"Yes, yes," Tsondy said, beaming.

"I thought it was amazing," said freshman Hailey Wolf. "Hearing the chant at the end was so calming and put you in a state of mind I've never really experienced."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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