View one performance of sacred Tibetan music and dance, and you will learn more about Tibetan Buddhist culture than by reading a dozen books about it. That's according to Tsepak Rigzin, who is the assistant program director of The Mystical Arts of Tibet.
But Rigzin doesn't use the word "viewing" when referring to the audience's role in a performance by the multiphonic singers from Drepung Loseling Monastery. He calls it "participation."
"They are not attending merely to watch," he explains. "There is an immediate interaction and feeling of connectedness in energy. People are really drawn into it. They tend to seek more profound meaning."
If you wish to experience this for yourself, you won't want to miss The Mystical Arts of Tibet, performing "Sacred Music Sacred Dance" Saturday at Sunset Center in Carmel.
Robed in colorful brocade, the Loseling monks play traditional Tibetan instruments ranging from long horns and trumpets to drums and bells. But what they are best known for is their unique technique of multiphonic chanting — sometimes called "overtone singing" — where each vocalist manipulates their vocal cords, throat and mouth to simultaneously incorporate more than one pitch into a sound, thus producing a chord.
"Once they start chanting, the chanting itself is so powerful that the audience is in pin-drop silence," said Rigzin, laughing as he added, "At the same time that it's a unique monastic chanting, it's absolutely awesome!"
Following their first tour to North America in the late 1980s, Drepung Loseling Monastery was invited to establish a monastery in Georgia. Within a few years, this North American monastery had become a center of learning for Tibetan Buddhist studies and practice in North America. Today, Drepung Loseling coordinates The Mystical Arts of Tibet tours to increase awareness of Tibetan culture throughout North America, as well as to help support refugee monks at Loseling in India.
Co-sponsored by Richard Gere Productions, the group is endorsed by the Dalai Lama as a means of promoting world peace through sacred performing art. They have performed in theaters and music halls throughout the nation, sharing the stage with other high-caliber performers including Philip Glass, Paul Simon, Sheryl Crow, Michael Stipe, Patti Smith and Natalie Merchant.
One of the dances that will be performed at the show in Carmel will be the "Dakini Dance," which Rigzin translated in English to "sky-goer dance."
"It connects the enlightened beings in the Buddhist field (or heavenly realm) with human beings in the earthly world," he explained. "The dancers (represent) feminine angels in the form of messengers. The dance describes how angels descend from the Buddhist field to the world. They offer a long-life ceremony ... then return to the heavenly realm."
Other dances include the Snow Lion Dance, which depicts a mystical animal that is said to be found in the highlands of Tibet and which represents a state of enlightened fearlessness. The Skeleton Dance features two monks in skeleton costumes, dancing to a drumbeat and evoking a Buddhist meditation on death and impermanence.
Rigzin described the effect the performance has on audience members:
"I think many of them go into a dream meditation, imagining themselves to be connected to a centuries-old tradition that has been passed from generation to generation in sacred places. It's an unbroken spiritual tradition filled with great blessings and energy."
Lily Dayton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. GO!
·What: The Mystical Arts of Tibet
·Where: Sunset Center, Ninth Avenue and San Carlos Street, Carmel
·When: 8p.m. on Saturday, June 9
·Tickets: $30-$50; available at box office (620-2048) or online at www.sunsetcenter.org
·Information: www.sunsetcenter.org, 620-2048