It all started with a meal.
I wasn’t quite sure why I was so nervous. They’re people beneath the crimson red and sapphire trimmed gowns but I’d never met a monk before; well, at least not shared a meal with them. Glancing up, whenever I caught they eye of one of them, they’d glance down. Both sides of the table watching each other – watching me – curiously. I glanced down and began to eat my plate of thenduk, the homemade noodle made by the monks that day.
Something dropped with a thunk. A corn cob rolled across the table, two great wooden tables pushed together to create one big family-style dining place. The woman sitting next to me looked horrified about having made such a racket.
I didn’t even think as the word left my mouth. The monk opposite grinned at me. “Whoops” he repeated. The ice was broken and there were giggles around the tables.
This is how my time at Bloomington’s Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center started.
On the outskirts of Bloomington is a little piece of Tibet.
Founded by Thubten Jigme Norbu, a former professor at Indiana University and the brother of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet in 1979’s, the Cultural Center is a place to learn, grow and preserve the cultures of Tibet and Mongolia after the invasion of the country by the People’s Republic of China.
The rise of Communism in China saw Buddhism being severely restricted. This was especially prevalent that during Mao’s Cultural Revolution where Buddhists were sent for re-education and nearly all of the 6,000 monasteries in Tibet were vandalised or destroyed.
Because of this persecution, the Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959 after the Indiana Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru allowed him and his followers to establish a government-in-exile in Dharamsala, and several thousand of Buddhists moved to the city.
Today, the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center is open to the public presenting a range of programs, both cultural and religious. There are yoga classes, art classes, meditation instruction, and Dharma Services. Classes on the Buddhism, lectures, and cultural festivals. More recently, they’ve launched language classes for those wanting to learn Tibetan, Chinese and Mongolian.
One of the most interesting times at the Center is when visiting monks from their sister monastery are present. The very same visiting monks who were laughing at the dropped corn.
While the center is open year round, there isn’t always monks visiting from Labrang Tashi Kyil, a monastery in Dehra Dun, India. The monks come to America to share their messages of wisdom and stories, while also raising vital donations for their school in India where 50 novice monks receive an education.
As we sat in the Cultural Building, the monks shared their personal stories with us. Jing Me’s story stood out. Not only because he chose to speak in Tibetan in a deep voice and his story was translated by another, but because he was quite the stoic figure at the table (he’s the monk on the far right, above). Having studied at the monastery from age 8, it wasn’t until he was 30 that he faced his biggest challenge.
“When I reached 30 years old, I decided to escape Tibet.” He delved further into his story, “… I had a big dream when I live in Tibet, I had a really had a bad desire to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama and people who lived outside the country, like in India. In 2006, I was able to see the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. I had a very – how to explain – I was full of happiness when I see His Holiness the Dalai Lama. That was one of the happiest I have ever get. Then, after a couple of months, I enrolled in my new monastry in India. [This year], I have come to the United States and I feel very happy and thankful to meet so many wonderful people. So thank you.”
Many stories were similar. The need to escape Tibet, the want to pass their culture on to the students they work with and hope to see world peace.
The day was perfect for wandering the grounds. The 108-acre property houses temples and stupas, teaching spaces, four retreat cottages, and two private residences. There’s also the cultural building where we enjoyed lunch and heard the monks speak.
As I walked through the grounds I could hear the monks chanting. As they walked the wooden platform and recited the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, their fingers gently spin the large cylindrical prayer wheels.
Follow the winding path to see a glistening white Stupa housing a colourful sand Kalachakra – a symbolic representation of the external universe also known as the “Wheel of Time” – used as a tool for the blessing of the earth and its inhabitants. Further in the distance, colourful prayer flags blow in the wind and the vibrant whites, blues and reds are a stark contrast against the greenery that surrounds on every side.
Further in the distance, colourful prayer flags blow in the wind and the vibrant whites, blues and reds are a stark contrast against the greenery that surrounds on every side.
While you are visiting, be sure to experience a meditation session inside the Kimbum Chamtse Ling Monastery. I’d never tried meditating before and trying to slow myself down from wanting to explore and take photos was difficult for me.
As I awkwardly perched on a pillow in a lotus position, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Arjia Rinpoche, the center’s spiritual leader, told me, “Don’t think anything, don’t do anything, just control your mind” as the long, low chants began, each monk knowing the timing perfectly.
The Dalai Lama has visited the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center five times and has an apartment ready and waiting for him at the center. The simple apartment is filled with beautifully embroidered furnishings and photos of Tibet, Indiana and Buddhist mantras. There’s also another delicate Kalachakra.
A well known sweet tooth, on each visit the Dalai Lama will bless some candy which is available for you to take a piece while visiting.
Whether you choose to join in a class or meet the monks, or simply want to wander through the ground, a visit to the Tibetan Mongolian Cultural Center is a great chance to experience something new and to see the diversity of Bloomington. In fact, it’s a little slice of Tibet in America’s Midwest.
Now it’s over to you
Have you ever tried a guided meditation?
I need your tips on how to control my mind.
Let me know in the comments below!
Tibetan Mongolian Cultural Center
3655 Snoddy Road
Bloomington, Indiana USA
Price: Visiting the Center is free but donations are appreciated.
Read more about Indiana:
I was in Bloomington for TMS Showcase with Visit Bloomington.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.