Buddhist monks bring their culture to Rivier

By MEGHAN CAREY, The Telegraph, Oct. 14, 2005

Nashua, NH (USA) -- Draped in maroon robes, four Tibetan Buddhist monks sat intently on floor pillows, their heads hovering closely over their partially completed sand mandala.

<<   Staff photos by Bob Hammerstrom
Working with colored sand, Tenpa, a monk from the Drepung Gomang Monastery works on a mandala on Thursday at Rivier College in Nashua. The monks will be working on the piece through Saturday when they will dismantle it and disburse the sand into a local body of water.

A 5-by 5-foot cobalt blue board separated each monk to his own corner of the intricate design. More than 20 small containers were filled with colored sand, which is the traditional medium of choice.

A 99-cent pack of “Grab and Go” peanuts leaned against a container of vivid yellow grains, the only apparent piece of Americana within the velvet ropes that surrounded the working artists.

The Tibetan monks are visiting Nashua as part of their 2005 Sacred Arts Tour to raise awareness about their culture. The construction of the mandala, in Memorial Hall at Rivier College, is one of many activities open to the public during their 11-day stay.

Throughout the day, school groups and locals stood by to watch the monks create their sand patterns. Rivier art students stood at easels around the ropes, sketching and painting the monks.

The mandala they are creating is the Medicine Buddha, which symbolizes healing. Each petal of the lotus design represents something spiritual, such as guardians and universal medicine.

The designs are made by rubbing metal tools together called chak-purs. These long, slender, serrated metal funnels create a sound that fills the studio. Some whispering can be heard beneath the hum, but an overall quiet respect for the creation of the mandala was observed.

One chak-pur is filled with the grains of sand, which are released out a tiny hole at the bottom end when another chak-pur sends the proper vibration to release the particles.

“The amazing part is how the frequency of the way they swing the other [funnel] can control the flow of the particles,” said Ye Rong, a graduate student at Rivier.

The monks work with one color at a time; first filling in a background color within a section stenciled on the board. Then they add different colors on top to create patterns that stay in place through balance and the proper flow of the particles out of the chak-pur, according to Tenzin Dolan, their tour translator.

Creating the sand mandala is usually done only on particular occasions. In India, the monks only create a mandala once every couple of years for special events. During the tour, however, they will create one of three mandalas during almost all of their stops, Dolan said.

“But here they figure the more healing and compassion, the better,” said Dolan. “Healing and compassion are probably precious commodities right now.”

Because they only have just over three days to complete the mandala, the monks have been working longer days than planned to finish the artwork.

Once it is finished, the 10 visiting monks will sweep together the particles and release them into water at the boat launch near Stellos Stadium Saturday afternoon.

The deconstruction is meant to show the impermanence of all that exists.