TIBETAN OFFERINGS. Scholars from the Drepung Monastic University are not your typical university students. Hailing from Mundgod, a Tibetan settlement in southern India, the institution's nearly 1,500 monks dedicate themselves to preserving Tibetan culture and religion. It hasn't been an easy task.

The Drepung Monastic University in its first incarnation was founded in 1416. Located near Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, it was the largest Buddhist university in the nation: By 1959, more than 5,000 monks had joined the Drepung Gomang division of the university. When the Dalai Lama was exiled to India shortly thereafter, only 100 of the scholars could accompany him.

Ten years after the small band of monks fled Tibet, the monastery was re-established in Mundgod on a parcel of land donated by the Indian government. For many Tibetan boys, monasteries outside Tibet are the only means of getting an education, and many families see their sons off with few hopes of ever meeting again. Annually, 150 new monks enter the Drepung institution, resulting in an ever-growing need for assistance with housing and living expenses. This week, Tucsonans can help.

Arizona Friends of Tibet, a Tucson-based nonprofit, has invited the Drepung Gomang monks to visit Tucson on a week-long benefit tour. The monks are leading performances, workshops and pujas (a form of blessing ceremony, featuring chants). Perhaps the most fascinating event of the week, however, is the construction of a sand mandala. A meaningful, delicate creation from gently poured colored sand, the mandala takes several days to create.

"They use a tiny metal funnel with sand inside, and they tap it, and the sand is released grain by grain," said Peggy Hitchcock of the Arizona Friends of Tibet, of the complex process.

The process will honor Chenrezig, the Tibetan deity of compassion. Monks began construction on Tuesday and will continue, working collaboratively, through Saturday, Feb. 14.

"It's such an intricate process, and it's beautiful to see," said Joel Aalberts, publicist for the event. Aalberts, who has seen the creation of a mandala in the past, is pleased to be bringing the sacred ceremony and exquisite art to the UA community and Tucson public as part of the UApresents Peace and Reconciliation series.

"An interesting fact is that the Navajos do sand mandalas, also. They're a completely different culture, but they came up with the same idea," said Hitchcock.

On Thursday, Feb. 12, the monks will work on the elaborate sand mandala on the lower level of the UA Student Union Bookstore from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. At noon, a puja to remove negativities and obstacles will be performed. At 5 p.m., Howard Cutler, co-author of The Art of Happiness with the Dalai Lama, will speak and sign his book, Art of Happiness at Work, at the UA Student Union Bookstore.

The book, a follow-up to the original, is the second collaboration between psychologist Cutler and the Dalai Lama. The Art of Happiness at Work explores why we work, what work really is, and how to attain satisfaction and fulfillment at work. Cutler weaves psychological research with the Dalai Lama's wisdom, creating a handbook to spiritual peace at work.

On Friday, Feb. 13, work continues on the sand mandala from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A Tibetan art demonstration takes place from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Student Union Bookstore, and at noon, a fire puja will be performed on the UA Mall. From 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., the Tibetan art demonstration continues.

Saturday, Feb. 14, sees the completion of the sand mandala. The monks will work from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The following day, Sunday, Feb. 15, the mandala will be dissolved in the pond north of Main Gate on the UA campus at 10:30 a.m., symbolizing the impermanence of all existence.

The monks conclude their visit at 3:30 p.m. with a white Tara puja for peace at The Pavilion (3705 Old Sabino Canyon Road). This ceremony honors the white Tara, the only female Buddha, a deity representing healing and long life.

"The ceremony brings her energy to the world, and to the participants. It magnifies various types of positive energy," said Hitchcock.

A $10 donation is requested for this final puja ceremony.

To find out more about the event, call the Arizona Friends of Tibet at 885-6527 or e-mail aztibet@mindspring.com. For more information about the Drepung Gomang monks, visit the university's Web site at gomang.org. All events, except Sunday's white tara puja, are free to the public. Proceeds benefit the basic needs of the Drepung Gomang monks.

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