An artistic welcome for the Dalai Lama

BY DAN BISCHOFF, Star-Ledger, September 18, 2005

New Brunswick, (USA) -- His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama - Tenzin Gyatso to those who knew him at his birth - is making his fourth trip to New Jersey since 1979, this time to visit Rutgers University in New Brunswick on Sept. 25, where he will deliver an address on "Peace, War, and Reconciliation" at Rutgers Stadium.

Both the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum on the New Brunswick campus and the Newark Museum, where the Dalai Lama consecrated a Buddhist altar in 1990, are mounting special exhibits in his honor.

Monks from the Buddhist Drepung Loseling Institute in Atlanta will create a traditional "Sand Painting Mandala" at the Zimmerli Museum beginning Wednesday and continuing through Saturday in honor of the Dalai Lama's visit. Visitors will be encouraged to visit the monks as they ceremoniously execute the painting during museum hours all four days.

The Newark Museum has assembled a commemorative exhibition, "Reflections: His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama," drawn from both the museum's extensive collection of Tibetan artifacts -- the largest in this hemisphere -- and from photographic archives, including snapshots of Tenzin Gyatso from all periods of his life.

"The Dalai Lama will be on campus for just one day, on the 25th," says Alfredo Franco, curator of education at the Zimmerli, "so the 'Sand Painting' will be more in honor of his visit than for his visit. The Dalai Lama will not visit the museum or see the painting before it is ritually destroyed. Each Tibetan mandala painting is dedicated to a different deity, and this one, in keeping with the theme of the Dalai Lama's address, is dedicated to the deity of compassion, Avalokiteshvara."

 The Georgian monks tour the U.S. making sand paintings under the aegis of Mystical Arts of Tibet, a cooperative business venture of the Atlanta institute and the film star Richard Gere. The painting of the mandala is a ritualistic task, with elaborate opening and closing ceremonies. The painting will be executed on a raised platform some six feet in diameter (the painting itself will be about 4 1/2 feet in diameter) in the lower Dodge Gallery performance space at the museum. Bleacher seats, with overviews of the work in progress, will be provided for visitors who care to watch the monks at work; the entire process of creating the painting will also be simulcast at

Some 11 monks will participate in the painting (not necessarily, Franco says, all at the same time). For many Buddhists such paintings are meditative touchstones, and the museum is not entirely sure how crowded the event will be.

"We wish we knew," Franco says, "because that would make preparation easier. Some American Buddhists have called and told us this visit could be the biggest event in their lifetimes."

Buddhist sand paintings are executed with painstaking care. Monks apply various colored sands virtually grain by grain from narrow glass tubes, building areas of pure color slowly. In the Tibetan tradition, this painting will be ritually destroyed to signify the impermanence of beauty, and indeed, of the world itself, soon after it is completed.

After a concluding ceremony (including chanting) at 3 p.m. Saturday, the monks will destroy the painting by spreading nearly all its sand in the waters of the Raritan River. The museum will provide a bus to take the monks and any visitors who care to participate across the Raritan to Grove 5 in Johnson Park, just across from the campus, where there is easy access to the river itself. Participants will be given small, bound packets of the painting's colored sand as mementos.

"Reflections: His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama" at the Newark Museum will take advantage of the museum's widely regarded collection, hailed as "the Louvre of Tibetan Art." Initially formed long before the Chinese seizure of Tibet in 1951 and subsequent bulldozing of its sacred architecture and systematic looting of its monasteries, the Newark Museum now holds the largest Tibetan collection outside of China itself. The bulk of Newark's holdings were acquired between 1905-36, and range over every aspect of the culture, from practical forms of dress and mountain equipage to sacred embroideries and filigreed gold work.

The current Dalai Lama consecrated an authentic Tibetan altar on the third floor of the museum on Sept. 23, 1990, so this exhibition falls on the 15th anniversary of that visit (he has visited the Newark Museum three times). Among the objects on display from Friday through the end of the year will be a golden lamp made in Lhasa in 1958 on the occasion of Tenzin Gyatso's passage of his final monastic examinations. (The lamp was used to light the first votary flame on the altar at its dedication.) A gold and silver relic box, donated to the museum by the Dalai Lama in 1981, will also be on display.

Much of the show will be in the form of photos. Rare footage in the museum's possession of pre-Chinese-invasion Tibet will be screened, as will video of the altar dedication ceremonies in 1990. Still photos of Tenzin Gyatso, both as a child and as an adult, will be installed in the gallery.

The Tibetan altar is a functioning site for devotions, and offerings there are regularly made and renewed. The elaborate wall paintings that go with the altar were executed by Tibetan Buddhists with the museum's help, and its serene setting only underlines the importance of the Tibetan collection.

The Newark Museum last mounted a show that dealt with the true breadth of its Tibetan holdings in 1998, called "From the Sacred Realm: Treasures of Tibetan Art." Smaller selections of the collection are on permanent display in galleries surrounding the altar.


Mandala Sand Painting and Reflections: His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

What, where, when, how much: Sand painting by Drepung Loseling monks at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton St., New Brunswick, Wednesday through Saturday; "Reflection: His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama" at the Newark Museum, 49 Washington St., Newark, Friday through the end of the year. Zimmerli galleries are open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; noon-5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Adults $3. Call (732) 932-7237 or visit Newark Museum hours are noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Suggested contribution $5; $2 seniors, children, and students. Call (973) 596-6550 or visit