January came and went this year with no sign of the Tibetan Buddhist monks who have visited Nevada County for 11 of the last more than a dozen years.
But that doesn’t mean the some of the Gaden Shartse Monastery monks exiled in south India won’t be here at all in 2013, said Joseph Guida, executive director of St. Joseph’s Cultural Center and cofounder of Sierra Friends of Tibet.
“It’s thought they may arrive in June or July,” Guida said. “As soon as we get the visas, they will come here.”
Over the last 12 years, delegations of monks have kicked off their United States tours with a two-week stay in Nevada County in January.
“They are extremely devoted to Nevada County,” said Melanie Sullivan, founder of Tibetech.org and an organizer of the monks’ visits.
“They feel a strong kinship to this community,” Sullivan said. “They will be here, and we are always first on their list.”
In 2009, monks postponed their visit to June when their spiritual master suddenly passed away, Sullivan said.
During their annual visits, the monks create sand mandalas at St. Joseph’s and offer healings, teachings and cultural performances.
“There are people that will walk a year just to get a glimpse of a mandala,” Sullivan said. “You can look at it from an artist’s perspective or a religious one. Either way, it is magnificent.”
The Gaden Shartse Monastery was originally founded in Tibet in the mid-1400s and remained as an institution of philosophical study prior to its destruction in 1959, when China invaded Tibet. As part of that, the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India, where the Tibetan people still live today as they struggle to keep their culture and religion intact.
“You are talking about people who are working really hard to hang onto their culture,” Sullivan said.
More than 100,000 Tibetans followed the Dalai Lama into exile and are now living in India, Nepal and Bhutan.
“They have no country, so getting visas is difficult. It takes a long time,” Sullivan said. “It has been an issue in the past. I think it’s getting more difficult.”
While Guida said the monks might not arrive until summer, Sullivan noted that the visas could be issued as early as April or May.
“The way it impacts us is we work with a lot of schools,” Sullivan noted of any delay in the monks’ arrival.
Members of the Gaden Shartse Monastery who venture to the U.S. spend two years preparing for the two- or three-year journey, Sullivan said.
“They’ve been waiting to come here,” Sullivan said.
Their journey is one of teaching, she added.
“It’s not necessarily a religious tour. It’s a cultural tour,” Sullivan said. “With their teachings, one could be a Christian, Buddhist or Jewish or whatever because their teachings cross all boundaries.”
On top of their non-violent teaching, the monks also spread awareness of their plight and raise funds as a secondary objective, Sullivan said.
While the yet-to-be-finalized Nevada County arrival of the monks remains elusive, Tibetan culture is scheduled for a March 23 showcase in Nevada County.
For the first time, exiled members of the Tibetan Association of Northern California will come to St. Joseph’s, located at 410 South Church St., Grass Valley.
“These are normal people like you and me, except they are exiles,” Guida said.
The evening of Tibetan culture will include food, music and dance. More details about the benefit event will be forthcoming, Guida said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.