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Mystical and musical

February 24, 2005|by KATE COLEMAN

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - East is West. West Virginia, that is.

On Tuesday, Feb. 22, a group of Buddhist monks began a four-day residency at Shepherd University.

The purpose of their visit is to promote world peace. The monks - called lamas - will share ancient traditions of Tibet through song, dance, art and music.

The program is presented by the Performing Arts Series at Shepherd, a long-standing program. Presenting diverse cultural experiences is part of the PASS mission, said Rachael Meads, assistant director of College Center and director of Student Development.

Meads, who has worked with the performing arts series for more than a decade, experienced "The Mystical Arts of Tibet" tour at the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. "It was just extraordinary to watch," she said.

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She wanted students and residents of Shepherdstown and the surrounding area to have a chance to experience what she had.

Two troupes of monks are on tour for a year, each visiting about 100 locations, said Geshe Yeshe, program director.

The monks are members of Drepung Loseling Monastery, which was established near Lhasa, Tibet, nearly 600 years ago. The monastery was closed shortly after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. About 250 monks escaped to India and re-established their institution in refugee camps there.

Their community has grown to more than 2,500 monks, and Drepung Loseling Institute was established in Atlanta in 1991.

The monks on the tours - endorsed by the Dalai Lama, the high priest of the monks' form of Buddhism - seek to contribute to world peace and healing, to generate awareness of the Tibetan civilization and to raise support for the Tibetan refugee community, according to a printed statement.

The touring lamas are not professional performers. They are monks taking time from their lives of contemplation and devotion and will return to the monastery at the end of the tour.

Nine monks are selected to represent the full range of activities required for the tour. They include the artists who are creating the sand mandala, which is on view - free of charge - until 3:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25, at Shepherd's Ruth Scarborough Library. Their skills include playing traditional Tibetan musical instruments and multiphonic chanting - zoh-kay - which means complete chord. Also known as overtone singing, the vocal technique results in each chantmaster intoning three notes at the same time.

Meads recalled the warm smiles, the sense of peacefulness and contentment communicated by the monks she saw in Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago.

Too often in our world, we don't take time to reflect, she said.

She is looking forward to such an opportunity at Friday evening's performance.

"We will be transported," she said.

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