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Namgyal Monks



In 1575 Sonam Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama, officially founded a monastery,
which later came to be known as Namgyal Dratsang (Victorious Monastery).
Since its inception, the monastery has assisted the Dalai Lamas in their
public religious activities and performed ritual prayer ceremonies for
the welfare of Tibet. From the beginning, the monastery has been a center
of learning, contemplation and meditation on the vast and profound Buddhist
treatises. Namgyal monastery is nonsectarian and maintains ritual practices
and teachings of the four main lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.


After the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the 1959 popular uprising,
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and one hundred thousand Tibetans
fled to India and Nepal, among them 55 monks from Namgyal. Namgyal Monastery
was re-established just outside the residence of His Holiness in Dharamsala,
India, where the Namgyal artistic and intellectual traditions are being
preserved and continued today. As it was in Tibet, the novice monks
must first pass a series of challenging entrance examinations and, if
accepted, undertake years of study. Namgyal is a tantric college; because
it is the private monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the monks
have less personal time, they require a more streamlined study program
focusing on the essentials of sutra and tantra. In relation to these
special requirements, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama has introduced
many innovations, including a new syllabus and program of study, which
is becoming a model for other Tibetan monasteries.

In addition to the intensive program of study of both sutra and tantra,
students debate, and are instructed in the creation of sand mandalas
and butter sculpture, ritual performance, music, chanting, dance and
basic literary skills in Tibetan and English.

The program takes thirteen years to complete, at which time a “Master
of Sutra and Tantra” degree, which is unique to Namgyal, is bestowed
upon those who successfully pass the final examinations. Each monk must
also complete a two to three month meditation retreat for each of the
principal deities and protectors, in order to qualify to perform their
rituals. The cycle of retreats might take up to six years to complete.


The opportunity to accompany the Dalai Lama on his visits abroad has
enabled the Namgyal monks to participate in numerous presentations of
Tibetan sacred art and dance in the United States, Europe and Japan.
In the summer of 1988, monks from Namgyal Monastery created a sand mandala
at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Over 50,000 people
came to watch this process during the six week demonstration. Historically,
the creation of sacred sand mandalas was always carried out in secret
but the Dalai Lama has now given permission for the public to witness
these sacred arts.

In the summer of 1989, Namgyal monks assisted His Holiness with a Kalachakra
initiation in Los Angeles. While one group of monks performed the preliminary
rituals, including the creation of a sand mandala and the performance
of two ritual dances, another group of four monks created a duplicate
mandala at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. Since then Namgyal
monks have created sand mandalas at other museums and galleries, including
the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of
Art at Cornell University, the IBM Gallery in New York City, setting
records for attendance at many locations.

From all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, that of painting
with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and exquisite. In
Tibetan this art is called dul-tson-kyil-khor, which literally means “mandala of colored powders.” Millions of grains of sand are
painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days
or weeks.

Formed of a traditional prescribed iconography that includes geometric
shapes and a multitude of ancient spiritual symbols, the sand-painted
mandala is used as a tool for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants.

The Monks of Namgyal Monastery have become especially well known for
the creation of exquisite mandala exhibitions in museums and galleries
throughout the world, as well as for other forms of sacred Tibetan arts
lectures, and religious activities.

Mandala (kilkhor)

The Tibetan word for mandala is kilkhor, which means “center of
the circle with exterior walls and surrounding environment.” A
mandala is a visual prayer and also a symbolic universe. It may be represented
by a three-dimensional model or more often two-dimensionally by means
of a painted scroll. Mandalas may also be created with precious jewels,
flowers, dyed rice, colored stones, or colored sand on a two-dimensional
surface. Sand, traditionally made from ground precious stones, is considered
the most efficacious material because of the precious substances involved
and the great skill required to create the mandala’s exquisite
details. Since each grain of sand is charged with the blessings of the
ritual process, the entire sand mandala embodies a vast store of spiritual
energy. According to Buddhist history, the purpose, meanings, and techniques
involved in the spiritual art of sand mandala painting were taught by
Sakyamuni Buddha in the 6th-century B.C. in India. This tradition has
been preserved over the past 2500 years in an unbroken transmission
from master to disciple.

Each mandala is a sacred mansion, the home of a particular deity, who
symbolically represents and embodies enlightened qualities, such as
compassion. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, mandalas are created
for rituals of initiation in which a highly qualified teacher grants
permission to advanced disciples to engage in the meditation practice
of a particular tantric deity. Both the deity, which resides at the
center of the mandala, and the mandala itself are recognized as pure
expressions of a Buddha’s fully enlightened mind. Tibetan Buddhists
believe that the seed of enlightenment in each person’s mind can
be nourished by the dynamic process of visualizing and contemplating
the symbolic meanings contained within a mandala. Through this practice,
the initiate attempts to integrate these qualities and attain enlightenment
for the benefit of all sentient beings. In Tibetan folklore, it is thought
a great blessing just to see a well-made mandala, since the impression
goes into the subconscious and marks it on the genetic level, so that
in some time one will automatically gravitate toward the Buddha realm.

The Kalachakra Mandala is the most complex of all mandalas, housing
the mandalas of Body, Speech, and Mind and representing a total of 722
deities. In the Kalachakra Mind Mandala, only the deities of the Mind
Mandala reside. This is not to say that the latter is incomplete. Since
the mind dominates body and speech, if one purifies or tames the mind,
the body and speech will also be purified. That is why in Tibetan Buddhism,
intention or motivation is more important than the physical actions
of body and speech. The Kalachakra Mind Mandala represents the essence
of the more elaborate Kalachakra Mandala