Sacred Arts Tour and Tibetan Monks Visit to Fishers Island

by Jane Ahrens
The beginning of the mandala construction on Fishers.


Photos by Jane T. Ahrens unless noted.
Click any image to see a larger version and scroll the gallery.

The Tibetan Buddhist Monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery returned to Fishers Island to construct the sand mandala of compassion and share their loving kindness with the Island. Sponsored by St. John’s Episcopal Church and the FI Community Center, the group constructed a mandala over a 5-day period beginning on August 7 and ending August 11, 2018.

Rev. Michael Spencer and his family with the Fishers Island community welcomed the Sacred Arts Tour’s Tibetan monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in Southern India. Arriving on Monday, August 6, the nine gentlemen included eight monks and a translator/driver stayed over at the St. John’s Rectory and the Shire near St. John’s Church. They departed Saturday, August 11 after the closing ceremony at the Community Center and Silver Eel Cove.

As a church community, St. John’s is very pleased to sponsor this summer’s visit of the Tibetan monks and to partner with the Community Center in creating a wonderful space to showcase this visit. St. John’s has as its mission outreach to the entire island through worship services, educational programs, musical concerts, island scholarships, the Sanger Fund, and through opportunities to promote interfaith understanding. This summer, our book group read The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. This documented conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This book provided the perfect backdrop for our conversations on the similarities and differences between Buddhism and Christianity.

Tibetan Monks from Drepung Gomang Monastery first visited Fishers Island in 2012. At that time, they spent three days on the island and created a small mandala. That visit was a great success and, since then, we have been looking forward to a longer visit where the monks could create a full mandala. While I am very grateful for the sharing of this art with the community, I am even more thankful for the many ways in which their presence on the island gifted all of us with a sense of joy and gratitude. This was certainly true for those who visited the Community Center throughout the week, or attended the book group discussion, or bumped into the monks when they visited Topper’s to enjoy one of many ice cream cones provided by folks on the island! Thank you to all those who extended such a warm welcome! ~ Reverand Michael Spencer

Opening Ceremony and Construction Began Tuesday, August 7

Mandala Construction continued Wednesday, August 8 through Friday, August 10 in the upstairs great room of the Community Center.

Community members were welcome to attend and view the construction of the mandala throughout the days and any other other scheduled events. An IPP Morning Program class came to visit and had a try at creating with the sand. Note that the creation of the Sand Mandala of Compassion is all done from memory.

During their stay, the monks welcomed community members to the Demonstration of Polyphonic Chanting on the evening of Wednesday, August 8 at Community Center, and with Reverend Spencer, held a discussion of Buddhist Teaching with St. John’s Book Group on Friday, August 10 at the Rectory on Peninsula Road.

The monks’ free time on Fishers included trips to get an afternoon ice cream at Toppers, walks on the beach, swimming in West Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean and a beach picnic dinner at South Beach.

Closing Ceremony Saturday, August 11 in the Community Center and sand dispersal at the ferry dock follow

The mission of the 2018 Sacred Arts Tour:

  • The monks sincerely wish to communicate a message of peace, wisdom and compassion to heal our anxious minds in these troubled times;
  • The monks are eager to introduce the arts and culture of Tibet to North America;
  • The monastery wishes to generate funds for the food and medical supplies that are necessary to support the nearly 2,000 refugee monks who call the South Indian monastery in exile their home.

Since the inception of the Drepung Gomang Monastic University, this important Tibetan and Buddhist learning center has produced many eminent Buddhist masters.  The focus of Gomang Monastery teaching is philosophy, specifically logic and debate.

Each year approximately 150 new monks arrive at Drepung Gomang from Tibet, Tibetan Mongolia, Russia, and Tibetan settlements in India.  Many of these monks are destitute refugees from Tibet; other monks come to Gomang to study Buddhist philosophy and dialectics since this education is not available to them in their home countries.

Drepung Monastery was founded in 1416 near Lhasa, Tibet.  In 1959, before the invasion of Communist China, the Drepung Monastery has more than 10,000 monks, 5,500 of which were Gomang.  Only about 100 monks managed to escape with His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he fled Tibet in 1959.  They first lived in Boxa, North India, and then moved to Mundgod, Karnatake State, South Indian where they rebuilt the Drepung Gomang Monastery.  There are nearly 2000 monks living at this monastery today.

Tour Goal:
To help ensure their survival, The Drepung Gomang Monastery, in cooperation with the Drepung Gomang Institute, its sister organization in the United States, worked to create this 2018 Sacred Arts Tour to spread a message of compassion, the raise awareness of the Tibetan cultural, religious arts and prayer, and to raise funds for the monastery’s food and medical needs.

Multi-phonic Chanting
This distinctive Tibetan Buddhist musical performance features harmonic overtone chanting of traditional prayers, accompanied by temple instruments including horns, flutes, bells, and drums. Delicate hand gestures and other offerings accompany the mystical rituals and multi-phonic singing (each monk chants a chord of three notes).

The Mandala
A mandala is an ancient form of Tibetan Buddhism. In general, all mandalas have outer, inner, and secret meaning. On the outer level they represent the world in its divine form; on the inner level, they represent a map by which the ordinary human mind is transformed into the enlightened mind; and on the secret level, they predict the primordially perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind. The creation of a sand painting is said to effect purification and healing on these three levels. The mandala created during this visit to Fishers Island is the Mandala of Compassion. At the end of its creation, it [was] dispersed into flowing water at the ferry dock [to further spread the compassion].

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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