Monks Raise Awareness of Tibetan Culture

Photo by Michael Pacheco

Spectators became part of an ancient ritual, which summoned the spirit of goodness and purified the living energy of the world, as the monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery performed their traditional chanting and dancing Sunday in the Sharp Theater.

The show was part of the Mystical Arts of Tibet tour, through which the monks aim to contribute to global peace, raise awareness of Tibetan arts and culture and support the community of Tibetan refugees in India.

The monks have performed in renowned venues like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and have gathered crowds during the Independence Day celebration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Their music was also used for the soundtrack of “Seven Years in Tibet,” starring Brad Pitt.

The performance was improvised and was presented entirely in the Tibetan language. The monks had considered translating the dialogue in English, but had decided against it because it would take away from the authenticity of the experience and because they felt that people are already too preoccupied with the literal meaning of words.

The monks’ most distinguishing skill is their multiphonic chanting: the ability to produce three notes of a chord at the same time. They achieve the effect through a long and intense training of their throat muscles.

In addition to the multiphonic singing, the performers used traditional instruments, dances and symbols to invoke wisdom, peace and positive energy. The picture of the Dalai Lama was prominently displayed throughout the entire performance as a tribute to his nonviolent struggle for Tibetan rights.

The most spectacular part of the show featured the dance of the snow lion, a symbol of bravery and wisdom. The creature is actually a two-person costume that resembles a Chinese festival dragon, but has long white fur and a much friendlier face.

For a different segment of the show, two of the monks dressed in red and white skeleton costumes to represent the transient nature of life and the peace that comes with the realization of the fact.

Another key element of the performance was the intense conversation between master and student that the monks re-enacted on stage in order to demonstrate the learning process that occurs in the monastic community. It resembled a passionate argument, but at times the monks were laughing or clapping to symbolize the transfer of knowledge.