Tibetan monks visit Miller for third year

The Tibetan monks of the Drepung Gomang monastery are visiting Miller again as a part of their sacred arts tour.

The group of monks has visited Gary annually since 2013 to create a sand mandala and raise awareness to their lives in India.

On Tuesday, the monks conducted a community blessing, or Puja, as well as participated in a drumming circle. The event drew members of the Miller community as well as other Northwest Indiana residents and even some from Chicago and further.

“We’re spending the week in Michigan,” Mary Zerega, of Chicago, said. “My friend told me about this and we drove over. I was fascinated by it so I looked on the website. I’m fascinated by the traditions and the teachings.”

The monks are brought each year by Cari Kniola and her husband, Jason Kniola. The family was involved with the monks in West Lafayette, and when they moved to Miller, they encouraged the monks to make a stop there as well. The family hosts them during the week.

The Miller Beach Arts & Creative District helps to put on the week of events, as well as provides the space for the monks to make their sand mandala in the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts. Executive director Meg Roman says that the Miller community is a perfect place to host events like this.

“Gary is a very eclectic city, and the Miller Beach community is even more so,” Roman said. “It’s always been known for arts and creativity. Every race, religion and socioeconomic position is here. It’s attractive to anyone.”

For the chanting and drumming circle, every seat in the upper level of the Gary Aquatorium was filled Tuesday.

“It’s such a culturally different feeling,” Patrick Lee, who was visiting from Maryland, said. “It gives you an appreciation for different lifestyles. I think it’s fascinating to see the principles of monks and how they work together. It’s much different than our concept of working together.”

The monks are currently traveling the United States with three primary objectives, according to Jason Kniola. .

“First, they want to spread the message of peace and compassion,” he said. “Second, they want to help spread awareness of the culture, which is currently in exile. And third, they want to help raise funds for the over 2,000 monks in the monastery. The money will go towards clothing, food, medical care, shelter and education.”

The Drepung Gomang monks will deconstruct their sand mandala, which is dedicated to the Medicine Buddha this year, at 1 p.m. Thursday in the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the arts.

At 2 p.m., on the beach in front of the Aquatorium, the monks will disperse the sand into the water to represent the impermanence of all things.