The house on Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis doesn't look like a monastery. Well, except for the colored prayer flags hanging from the roof. But, inside it sure sounds like one.
The five monks sit in on the floor in a row chanting. They all have shaved heads and wear wine-colored robes. Their voices blend into a deep rumbling sound that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
The Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery opened in Minneapolis as part of the Dalai Lama's effort to preserve Tibet's culture in exile. The monastery serves the 1500 Tibetans in the area, many of whom came here as refugees.
Inside, tiny lit candles warm up a room full of gold statues and wallhangings in pinks and reds and blues. On the table stands a large picture of the Dalai Lama. In front, sit piles of red apples, yellow bananas and a tray of what looks like fist-sized Hershey kisses with painted red tops. It's is a mix of roasted barley flour, butter, cashews, walnuts, and brown sugar. One of the monks, Lobsang Jungnes explains the feast offering.
"This is considered one of the Tibetans most delicious foods. So that is why we offer the most delicious food to the gurus and buddhas and so on," he smiles.
The Minnesotan monks will soon be joined by visiting monks from Dharmasala, India and together they'll form the tantric choir. All the monks are originally from the same Gyuto Monastery in India.
The visitors hope to promote peace and harmony, fundraise for the healthcare of aging monks, and to raise awareness about the continued Chinese occupation of Tibet. Local Tibetans worry that as Beijing prepares for the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government will gloss over its treatment of Tibetans.
According to local Tibetans, only a few of the Gyoto monastery's 900 original members escaped Tibet and made it to safely to Dharmasala. The others died or were imprisoned. Now, the monastery is once again growing, but this time in India.
Talking to the monks, is a little bit like playing the game telephone. You ask a question and then down the row it goes -- from the eldest, Tenzin Jampa Chosang, 82, to the one that speaks the best English, Lobsang Jungnes.
The monks say that what audience members get out of listening to the chanting will depend on their own motivation. But beyond that, they do have one guarantee.
"Definitely, they're going to get blessings," says Lobsang Jungnes.
The first Tibetan in the Twin Cities was Thupten Dadak. He used to be a monk and still believes the way the monks live, their daily practice of meditation, can hold valuable lessons for Minnesota and for the world.
The last time the Gyuto Choir was in town, Dadak remembers the effect on the American audience. Some began crying. Others left the events and re-examined their lives.
"They are getting something," he says, "(It's)not(like) rock n' roll, where you get kind of crazy. After receiving the monks chanting, it helps you reflect (on) your own life."
Dadak feels that the Tibetan message of harmony and peace is somehow conveyed through the ancient chants. Dadak can trace the chanting through childhood memories of his homeland.
"The sky was totally different and there is no, you can hardly see any cloud," he says. "Mountains, monks chanting and then underneath the valley, the Tibetans working in the field and dancing and singing."
And though they won't be in the mountains this month, they will be at the Basilica of St. Mary on Saturday night and at other locations through the end of May.