“We are all just bones underneath”: a performance by Tashi Lhunpo Tibetan monks

It’s a sunny afternoon in the Hidden Gardens in Glasgow, and eight Tibetan monks are waiting to perform The Power of Compassion for the audience.

By Olivia Sykes, Refugee Festival Scotland volunteer

The 14th Dalai Lama wrote a book called The Power of Compassion, where he outlines the importance of peace and harmony through the practices of Buddhism. These practices and sentiments have inspired people around the world to take up attitudes of kindness and have changed many lives.

However, the Dalai Lama and many of his followers now live in exile as refugees and are unable to practice their spiritual practices in their homeland. The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery was established in India where many Tibetan monks live out their exile alongside the Dalai Lama. The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery UK Trust is an organization which aims to keep the culture of the monks alive by sharing their practices with the world, until they can return to Tibet once again.

The Trust brought the culture and beauty of Tibet to Glasgow on a lovely sunny afternoon, through The Power Of Compassion in the Hidden Gardens. The setting was very peaceful, a perfect place to demonstrate the tranquillity of monastic life.

The monks began by playing Dung-chen, traditional Tibetan horns, which sound like the trumpet call of elephants. The boom was loud and commanded the attention of all who were in the audience. They asked for the protection of the Dalai Lama and there was a sense of great calm that swept over everyone.

In the distance bird calls could be heard, the footsteps of those around the garden, and sounds of everyday life. The juxtaposition of these sounds compared with the synchronous chants of the eight monks in traditional dress was startling. It reminded me how there are so many rich cultures happening all around us that maybe we don’t always recognize. Everyone in this moment had a small glimpse into something magical.

Then the dancing began. The monks were fitted in the most vibrant and intricate masks and dress. The audience was reminded that these dances are special, and most do not see them performed. Discovering other cultures is a joyous experience, there are so many degrees of vibrancy and ways to view life.

A masked dance depicting skulls and bones known as Dur Dak – The Lords of the Cemetery was performed, with the preamble, “underneath you are nothing but bones”. No matter where in life you come from, if we remove our focus on the self, we are all one and the same. What a powerful way of demonstrating how even in difference we can always find connection.

“We must never forget Tibet.” This statement, said towards the end of the event, reminded the audience that, even with displacement, we can still find home, but we should always be able to celebrate where we come from. This is a sentiment that the monks of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery live every day.

After the performance I caught up with a few audience members. Anabel had travelled quite far, specifically to see the monks perform. Ron Scrimgeour, presented his family tartan to one of the monks. He was very moved by the performance and the blending of Scottish and Tibetan cultural garments was a perfect encapsulation of the event. Something Ron said stuck out to me in particular: “Refugees have always been here, and they have existed for so long.”

People have always moved, and been moved; it is part of who we are. Being away from home or not feeling that you have a home is never easy. But in that moment, with the breeze and the monks walking in the garden, quiet laughter from the attendees, there was a beautiful sense of belonging.