April 15th, 2019

Early Music Now, The Mystical Arts of Tibet

On Saturday, April 13, we went to the Tripoli Shrine Center to experience the program, “The Mystical Arts of Tibet,” presented by monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery, re-established in India in 1969 after having been driven out of Tibet by the Chinese invasion of 1959. This group follows the Dalai Lama and his teachings. I’m copying the program descriptions, since they give a sense of what it was like better than I could, although I’m adding comments:

Sacred Music Sacred Dance for World Healing

Nyensen: Invocation of the Forces of Goodness

The monks invoke creative awareness within themselves and the audience. They enhance a positive environment as a prelude to the performance of Sacred Music Sacred Dance. (The instrumentation includes drums, cymbals, chimes, “high horns:, which resemble conch shells, and “long horns,” which are a kind of telescoping brass alpenhorn. I can imagine that the sound of these echoing in the mountains would be quite scalp-tingling.)

Tentru Yultra: Purifying the Environment and its Inhabitants

Chanting in multiphonic tradition, the monks hold up a mirror and draw into it the reflection of the world and its living beings. They then purify these through sound and meditation, as symbolized by the act of pouring water from a sacred vase over the mirror. (The monks have great lungs. Three singers easily filled the hall with LOUD singing. They also know the art of throat-singing, which adds a most profound effect to the singing.)

Shanak Garcham: Dance of the Black Hat Masters

This ancient dance for the elimination of negative energies is in the style known as drakpo, or “wrathful.” The implements held by the dancers symbolize the transcendence of false ego-identification. The movements symbolize the joy and freedom of seeing reality in its truth. (The implements include ritual daggers and skull cups. These sorts of rituals gave the Tibetan Buddhism an unjustified sinister cast to Western viewers. I have seen ignorant pulp fiction from the 1930’s that used Tibetan “black hat priests” as devil-worshipping bad guys--.)

Taksal: Intense Encounters of the Third Degree

A demonstration of the tradition of Tibetan monastic inquiry. Two monks engage one another in a process leading to the deeper levels of spiritual experience, enhancing the mind of enlightenment. (This was quite amusing to watch: The challengers in the debate stand and move around, using a ritual hand-clap when they have made a point. The ‘defenders’ remain seated and respond verbally. Georgie and I both agreed that debates would be more entertaining if the participants had to dance--.)

 Senggey Garcham: The Snow Lion Dance

The Tibet snow lion symbolizes the fearless and elegant quality of the enlightened mind. Sacred activities are believed to create a healthy and harmonious environment where all beings, including animals, rejoice. (The Tibetan Snow Lion has white fur with green spots. It is a two-person version of the Chinese Lion Dance. Impressive, since the dancers have to manipulate the creature’s eyes, mouth, tongue and tail while keeping up with pretty fast music.)


Durdak Garcham: Dance of the Skelton Lords

To remind the world of the ephemeral nature of all things, two monks appear as the forces of good manifested by Cemetery Lords.  (The white of skeletal bone stands for wisdom. Another sinister-appearing dance that’s actually quite jolly.)

Dakzin Tsarchord: A Melody to Sever the Ego Syndrome

Drawn from the 11thcentury female mystic Machik Labdon, this traditional meditative music is considered among the most hauntingly beautiful from the Land of the Snows. Its purpose is to free the mind from ego-clinging habits. (The most melodious sounding piece, to the Western ear.)

Khadro Tenshug Garcham: Dance of the Celestial Travelers

Five dancers symbolize the five elements and five wisdoms. With three musicians, they invoke the sounds and movements of the Celestial Travelers, mystic beings from another world. These spirits visit our world in times of stress and danger, bringing with them the creative energy that inspires harmony and peace. (Our performance had only four dancers, since one monk did not get a visa. If pacifist Buddhist monks can’t get visas, things are getting ridiculous.)

Sangso Shijo: Auspicious Song for World Healing

The monks send forth smoke, which the wind carries to the ten directions as a force invoking peace, harmony and the ways of creative living.

As part of their stay in Milwaukee, the monks also created a sand mandala at City Hall. Georgie and I went to see it on Friday morning the 12th. We got there before the monks, so viewing of the not-yet completed mandala was good. Only a portion of the borders remained to be done, so the most intricate and colorful portions were finished. The design was about four feet across, for scale.

This was a very interesting and informative program about a culture we have had little exposure to. We enjoyed it very much and were very glad to have the opportunity to take it in.

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