Story by Hannah Kelsker
Photo by Luke Nankivell
Students and community members gathered to listen to the monks chant and sweep away their work.
Andrew Tomten, a first-year philosophy and music double major, said he stumbled upon the Tibetan monks in the library and decided to check out a few events.
“The fact that it’s grains of sand with so much hard work – and putting that into something that represents something else definitely represents how much you are into what you do,” Tomten said.
Associate Professor of Philosophy Tim Knepper, Associate Professor of Religious Studies Brad Crowell and Leah Kalmanson, an assistant professor in the philosophy and religion department, made the Tibetan monk visit possible.
The visit was sponsored by the Comparison Project. The theme of the project this year is “Religion Beyond Words.”
Knepper said he was astounded by the amount of religious diversity in Des Moines, and he wanted to bring more awareness to the metro’s many faiths.
“I am a philosopher of religion by training, and philosophers of religion usually practice on the idea of a God that’s all-powerful and all-loving and all-knowing and that speaks for some of the religions of the world but for many others – such as Buddhism,” Knepper said. “And I wanted to run a program in which we could do philosophy and religion in a religiously diverse way.”
Sarah LeBlanc, a first-year news-internet major, said the sand mandala was a cleansing process.
“I feel like they’re pouring all their beliefs and worries (into the mandala),” LeBlanc said.
“I feel like destroying it is a way to release all those feelings,” she said.
All the professors said it was a busy and tiring week, but it was worthwhile.
“The intensity – the calm wisdom of him (the monk) when he spoke at the lectures, I just felt like I was getting drawn to his face every time he spoke, a man of tremendous wisdom,” Knepper said.
Knepper said they forgot one important aspect for the Tibetan monk visit.
“You try to take certain aspects of the planning and just think out every element of it, and you never think them all out,” Knepper said. “So, one thing we didn’t think was showers.”
Knepper said the professors worked with the Bell Center, so the monks could shower there. When the monks arrived though, they told the professors it was against their culture to shower around other people.
Knepper had six monks come to his house to shower.
“My kids loved that. My kids were showing the monks their Lego toys, waiting in our living room to go upstairs to our one shower,” Knepper said. “And then after that they decided it would be easier to bathe in the parking lot with a bucket and a ladle, so that’s what they’ve been doing.”
The Comparison Project will continue to host lectures, meditation workshops and dialogues on “Religion Beyond Words.” The next event is in the Cowles Reading Room at 7 p.m. on Oct. 3.