Tibetan Nuns will Build Mandala of Compassion at Trinity College

Six Buddhist Nuns from Nepal also will participate in College Convocation

HARTFORD, CT, August 15, 2012—Six Buddhist nuns from the Keydong Thuk-che Choeling Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, will arrive in Hartford on August 16 in preparation for building a mandala, a sand painting used for prayer, contemplation, and healing, at Trinity College.

Click here to see a preview of this upcoming event.

Before the mandala making gets underway, however, the Keydong nuns will appear at the College’s convocation on Thursday, August 30 at 2 p.m., at which they will recite “Words of Truth,” a prayer composed by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet. The convocation will take place on the main quadrangle, and is free and open to the public. (The rain location is the Koeppel Community Sports Center, 175 New Britain Avenue.) 

The Keydong nuns are among the first Buddhist female monastics to learn and practice the sacred art of the sand mandala, an ancient tradition once reserved for monks. This marks their third appearance at Trinity, having been the first Buddhist nuns to create a sand mandala in the United States in 1998. They returned to Trinity in February 2005 to build a second mandala.

In September, on a day deemed auspicious on the Tibetan calendar, the nuns will start creating a third mandala using brightly colored sand they are bringing from Nepal. The mandala will be built in the Austin Arts Center’s Garmany Hall.

In the Himalayan valley where the Keydong nunnery is located, the monastic women collect nuggets of white marble that they crush, wash, and dry in the sun. The sand is divided and dyed in five colors—red, blue, yellow, green, and white—representing the five “Buddha families,” which contain multiple levels of meaning.

The mandala will take one month to complete, and will measure approximately eight by eight feet, according to Ani Ngawang Tendol, a Keydong nun who serves as the group’s leader and interpreter. (“Ani” is the honorific prefix given to a nun’s name in Tibetan Buddhism, and means “Nun.”)

Both graphic and abstract in design, the intricate forms and spiritual symbols of a mandala can be “read” by the initiated. At the center is a square diagram of a palace inhabited by an enlightened celestial being. In this case, it is Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist deity of compassion. Multiple circles surround the deity’s palace.

The exhibit, “Mandala: The Sacred Art of Sand,” will be open to the public on Friday, September 14. Visitors should be prepared to take off their shoes before entering Garmany Hall. 

That day, public viewing of the mandala making will be at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and will be followed by a keynote lecture at 4:30 p.m. in the adjacent Goodwin Theater. Rinchen Dharlo, president of the Tibet Fund and former North American representative of the Dalai Lama, will introduce the lecturer. 

Entitled “Tradition Changing Women, Women Changing Tradition: The Interface of Tibetan Nuns and the Sacred Art of Sand Mandala Making,” the lecture is, in part, an eyewitness account by Melissa R. Kerin, who first observed the nuns in Nepal in 1993 while a student at Trinity. She is currently assistant professor of art history at Washington and Lee University.

Beginning Saturday, September 15, observers are welcome to witness the mandala making on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. through October 13. There will be occasions when Garmany Hall will be closed for the nuns’ religious observances, so those travelling from a distance are encouraged to call ahead at 860-297-2199. 

On Sunday, October 14 at noon, the nuns will ceremoniously dismantle the mandala and disperse the sands into the Connecticut River at Charter Oak Landing in Hartford, a gesture signifying the impermanence of life. The public is invited to observe these rituals. School buses on Summit Street, adjacent to Trinity’s Mather Hall, will provide free round-trip transportation. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

A concurrent display of sacred thangkas and contemporary painting from Tibet, on loan from local private collections, will be shown in Garmany Hall. 

Related concerts and films, all free to the public, will take place in the Goodwin Theater and Cinestudio. Following is the schedule of events.

Convocation and Mandala Schedule

Thursday, August 30 at 2 p.m. 

The Keydong nuns will recite “Words of Truth,” a prayer composed by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, during Trinity’s convocation on the main quad. (The rain location is the Koeppel Community Sports Center, 175 New Britain Avenue.) The event is free and open to the public.

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Sand Mandala Sch​edule: 

Friday, September 14, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Saturday, September 15, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Monday-Friday, September 17 – 21, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday, September 22, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Monday-Friday, September 24 – 28, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday, September 29, 1 – 5 p.m.
Monday-Friday, October 1 – 5, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday, October 6, 1 – 5 p.m.
Monday – Friday, October 8, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday, October 13, 1 – 5 p.m.

Mandala dismantling ceremony

Sunday, October 14, at noon

Garmany Hall, Austin Arts Center, moving to Charter Oak Landing on the Connecticut River. The public is invited to observe the Keydong nuns dismantle the mandala and offer its sands to the Connecticut River. School buses on Summit Street, adjacent to Mather Hall, will provide free, round-trip transportation. Seating is first-come, first-served.

Talks

Friday, September 14 at 4:30 p.m.

While sitting in a tight corner of a s​mall room at the Keydong Thuk-che Choeling nunnery, Kerin watched several nuns maneuver compasses and refer to Tibetan Buddhist texts as they penciled exquisitely detailed and precise geometric designs of circles and squares on paper: “At that time in March, 1993, I had no understanding of the transformative process I was witnessing; these Tibetan Buddhist nuns—with little more than rudimentary materials of unwieldy compasses, nubs of graphite, and low grade paper—were learning to master the art of sand mandala making, a ritual practice and art form previously only accessible to well-educated, male monastics. These nuns were starting to change that tradition of exclusion, and in turn the august tradition of mandala making changed these nuns’ lives.”
Kerin’s lecture is an account of the nearly 20 years of the Keydong nuns’ mandala-making journey. Her exploration consider the ways in which religious art practices, such as sand mandala making, can be appropriated and used in contemporary times to reshape religious identities, as well as to recreate communal identities, especially for those in diaspora.
Austin Arts Center, Goodwin Theater, free and open to the public.


Thursday, September 27 at 12:15 p.m.

Common Hour: “Life Stories of the Keydong Nuns.” The six Tibetan Buddhist nuns who will be in residence at Trinity creating the sand mandala of compassion will take a break from their work to talk about how the Keydong Thuk-che Choeling Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, originated and how each of them found their way there to become a nun.
Mather Hall, 300 Summit Street, free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Calendar and Special Events Office: 860-297-4133 or send an email to calendar-office@trincoll.edu​

Performances

Saturday, September 22 at 8:30 p.m.

Concert: “An Evening of Tibetan Music with Dadon”
Dawa Dolma, the singer and composer popularly known as Dadon, is the leading recording artist of popular music in Tibet and is beloved by Tibetans around world. She holds a music degree from Beijing University (1985), studied voice at the Chinese Musical College in Beijing (1988), and represented Tibet at national Chinese music competitions in 1988 and 1990, winning the silver medal at each. Her music fuses traditional Tibetan melodies and vocal techniques with an Asian pop aesthetic. Her lyrics promote Tibetan independence and freedom, celebrate the natural beauty of her homeland, and tell of the exiled Dalai Lama.
In 1992, fearing Chinese government reprisals, she fled her country, walking across the Himalayan mountains to India. Today she lives in Connecticut and performs in the United States. To many Americans, however, Dadon is best known for her starring role in the 1998 film Windhorse (see Thursday, September 27).
Austin Arts Center, Goodwin Theater, free and open to the public; reservations are recommended.
Box Office: 860-297-2199. 


Friday, September 28 at 7:30 p.m.

Dance Concert: “Dancing the Present Moment”
Celebrating a convergence of bodily mindfulness, spontaneity of spirit, and open responsiveness to the lived moment, this concert features professional guest artists Chris Aiken, Lindsey Dietz Marchant, Dance Generators, Lani Nahele, and Trinity student dancers.
It is sponsored by the Department of Theater and Dance.
Austin Arts Center, Goodwin Theater, free and open to the public; reservations are recommended.
Box Office: 860-297-2199.

Films 

Thursday, September 27 at 7:30 p.m.

Film: Windhorse (1998)
(unrated; 97 min.), directed by Paul Wagner, written by Julia Elliot and Thupten Tsering, photographed by Steve Schecter and starring Dadon and Richard Chang. Subtitles.
A “windhorse” is a Tibetan prayer flag, and among the prayers sent to the spirits are prayers for freedom. This collaboration by Americans and Tibetans, and filmed in Tibet and Nepal, dramatizes the plight of a family trying to survive under Chinese repression.
Cinestudio, 300 Summit Street, 860-297-2463 (for show times) or www.cinestudio.org.
Free and open to the public.


Thursday, October 4 at 7:30 p.m.

Film: Himalaya (2000)
Filmed over seven months in the forbidden Dolpo region of Nepal, Himalaya tells of a generational struggle between an old proud chief of a tiny mountain village and his rival, a young, headstrong caravanner. The balance of power shifts uneasily as they make their annual salt trek across the Himalayas. This visually striking film provides glimpses of fast disappearing traditions of Tibetan life as well as the region’s extraordinary landscape.
Cinestudio, 300 Summit Street, 860-297-2463 (for show times) or www.cinestudio.org.
Free and open to the public. 


Thursday, October 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Film: The Cup (1999)
(Rated G; 94 min.), written and directed by Khyentse Norbu. Subtitles.
Obsessed with soccer, spirited adolescent boys in a monastery in Bhutan conspire to watch a World Cup final, but how will they obtain the necessary satellite dish and television?
Cinestudio, 300 Summit Street, 860-297-2463 (for show times) or www.cinestudio.org.
Free and open to the public. 


“Mandala: The Sacred Art of Sand” is sponsored by Trinity's Office of the President; Office of the Dean of Faculty; Hy C. and Micki Dworin Fund for Asian and Eastern European Studies; Austin Arts Center Guest Artist Series; the Center for Urban and Global Studies; and The O'Neill Asia Cum Laude Endowment. The project is supported by 26 departments and programs at Trinity.

For more information about the Keydong Thuk-che Choeling Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, please visit: www.keydong-thukche-choeling.org​. For more information about the events, please visit: http://www.trincoll.edu/arts/mandala.​​