Tibetan Buddhist monks are welcomed to campus for the Center for Faith and Spirituality’s inaugural event
By Emma Deans
In October 2017 Saint Joseph’s welcomed Tibetan Buddhist monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery for the inaugural event of the Center for Faith and Spirituality (CFS). During their four-day visit, the monks painstakingly arranged millions of grains of colored sand into a pattern called a mandala on a raised platform inside of the College’s Stone Barn at Sebago Lake. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “sacred cosmogram” or a representation of the universe. It is an ancient tool believed to heal the earth and its inhabitants. During the event’s opening ceremony, the monks consecrated the site and called forth the forces of goodness through chanting, music, and mantra recitation. They then drew an outline of the mandala on the wooden platform, before pouring bright colored sands from traditional metal funnels called chak-purs. Each monk held a chak-pur in one hand, while running a metal rod on its grated surface. The vibration caused the sands to flow like liquid.
During the closing ceremony, the sands were swept up and placed in an urn. To fulfill the function of healing, half was distributed to the audience, while the remainder was carried to a nearby body of water. The monks explained that “the waters then carry the healing blessing to the ocean, and from there it spreads throughout the world for planetary healing.” The disassembling of the intricate and beautiful sand painting served as a metaphor for the impermanence of life.
The Center for Faith and Spirituality supports the College’s strategic plan and vision to be an exemplary, 21st Century, Catholic, liberal arts college in the Mercy tradition. Led by the Office of Sponsorship and Mission Integration, the Center seeks to provide leadership and resources to develop ongoing dialogue and engage, nurture, and foster faith and spirituality.
A planning committee for the Center commenced in 2014, bringing together College leadership, members of the local community, and members of the Board of Trustees, including Trustee Sister Ellen Turner, RSM. “The Center will provide multiple occasions for individuals and groups to explore their spiritual development. The Saint Joseph’s College campus speaks to the soul because we are surrounded by such natural beauty,” she said.
Another member of the Center’s planning committee, Kathy Tosney, brought valuable insight to the College with her 40 years of contemplative practice and studies. She has worked as a retreat team facilitator for Mepkin Abbey’s Contemplative Aging Retreats (a Trappist Monastery outside of Charleston, South Carolina) and has helped direct Ignatian Retreats through the Ignatian Spiritual Partnership in Portland. “I became involved in the Mandala event because as a member of the CFS committee, I felt it important to welcome community guests and visitors,” she said.
Kathy enjoyed discussing the Center’s mission and she gathered feedback from visitors “as to what resources people may be seeking to deepen meaning on all levels of life.” She looks forward to continuing to foster relationships across communities. “Everyone I spoke to at the event was very excited about the opening of CFS and wanted more information on future programs!”