Some touring Tibetan Buddhists find themselves with time to hang out and even go to a rock concert.
Bonnie Langston, Kingston Daily Freeman, May 16, 2001
Jampa Palden, right, plays a damnyen while jamming with Christopher Strone, Philip Hemley, standing at center, and Ray Ippolito on the back deck of the Tibetan Studies Society.
Because of cancellations in their U.S. tour, nine Tibetan Buddhist monks from southern India have had time to vacation, teach, perform - and even attend their first rock concert - in Woodstock.

"We're happy here. What a wonderful, beautiful town," said Lobsang Wangchuk, a native of California and the only American among the nine. "What a nice place to hang out. I've been telling the monks 'This is our vacation. You'd better enjoy it.'"

In addition to "hanging out" in general in Woodstock, the men have been staying with organizer Philip A. Hemley, better known as Phil Void, his stage name with the Dharma Bums, Tibetan-influenced rock band. Hemley is founder of the Tibetan Studies Society, which started out in 1972 at Columbia University and is now based in Woodstock.

Although the monks' stay, which began May 4, has been a departure from their usual 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. work schedule, they have been giving teachings on the upper level of the store Return to Woodstock on Tinker Street in Woodstock. Most recently they performed sacred music and dance at the Bearsville Theater and a closing sand mandala ceremony at the Woodstock Artists Association.

The monks and community members alike created the mandala, circular design in colored sand designs meant to represent the universe. At the ceremony, the sand image was destroyed and dispersed in a stream.

During their stay in Woodstock, as well as their travels around the United States, the monks have been making an effort to increase awareness of Tibetan culture, spread the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and raise money for their monastery.

It was the cancellation of their appearances in Pennsylvania and Ohio that allowed the Ganden Shartse monks to come to Woodstock. But the last-minute scheduling has met with glitches that may shorten their stay, originally planned to last through Sunday. They may - or may not - be eaving much earlier. It all depends upon time needed to prepare for the Dalai Lama's arrival in Los Angeles next weekend, allowing for the proposed making of a sand mandala and performing as well as attending his teachings. The Dalai Lama is the exiled leader of the people of Tibet, from whence he fled in 1959 following the invasion by Communist Chinese.

If the Ganden Shartse monks must leave earlier than planned, others will take over their teachings for the remainder of the week and the extended weekend, Hemley said, either monks from the Nechung Monastery in Northern India or lamas from the Tashil Lunpo monastery in southern India.

Whoever the visitors are, they will find themselves in an area familiar with the practices of Tibetan Buddhism, largely established through the presence of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and retreat center located at the pinnacle of Mead's Mountain Road, and the small Palden Sakya Center below on the same road. In addition, Zen Buddhism is practiced at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper in the neighboring town of Shandaken.

During the Ganden Shartse monks' stay in Woodstock, they made prayers and had lunch at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. Wangchuk had visited the monastery before, but not to do prayers.

"This is very rare," said Wangchuk, whose monastery belongs to the Gelug sect, one of four sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

Hemley called the special invitation "unprecedented" and in keeping with the spirit of mutual cooperation fostered by the Dalai Lama and the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, head of the Tibetan Buddhism Kagyu sect, to which KTD monastery belongs. Gyalwang Karmapa, now 15, visited Karma Triyana Dharmachakra following his escape from Tibet at the turn of the millennium.

"It's almost like having a Buddha come to Woodstock. It's very special, Wangchuk said. "It's wonderful the Karmapa has come out of Tibet. Otherwise we wouldn't have his precious presence here."

As for the presence of the Ganden Shartse monks, they have enjoyed their stay, getting past initial offense at a piece in a show of erotic art at the Woodstock Artists Association, where their sacred mandala was being created.

"People are very nice to us," said Phuntsho, a monk born in Bhutan, north of the Indian state of Assam. "It's all positive."

After the monks of Ganden Shartse are gone, Hemley said other monks and lamas will be visiting and giving teachings through the auspices of the Tibetan Studies Society. There are also plans to construct a yurt, a circular tent on a framework of poles, this summer on two acres of land the society owns on Kate Yaeger Road in Saugerties.

Meanwhile, Hemley is glad the monks from the Ganden Shartse Monastery could pay a visit to Woodstock and the society's most recent location, with a temple and room, at Return to Woodstock.

"It was a fantastic way to inaugurate the new space," Hemley said.

For more information, call the Tibetan Studies Society at (845) 679-4670.

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