A beautiful painting, just don't get attached

By Betsy Taylor, Associated Press, April 30, 2005

After carefully forming millions of grains of sand into a colorful pattern, Tibetan monks will destroy their work.
-- Tibetan monks are spending five days at the St. Louis Art
Museum meticulously positioning millions of grains of sand in a colorful pattern to form a sand painting. On Sunday, they'll destroy it.

The process serves as a way for the Buddhists to meditate, spread blessings and show the temporary nature of things in this world, even the beautiful ones.

"It symbolizes the impermanence of all existence," noted Tenzin Phenthok, 25, a monk who wore a flowing maroon robe and served as spokesman for the group while the painting was assembled earlier in the week.

"Also, it tells us lessons of nonattachment," he said, or the importance of not becoming too attached to the things of this world. In the Sculpture Hall at the art gallery, Buddhist monks lean over a wooden platform that resembles a table to create the work, known as a mandala.

They each hold a narrow funnel called a chakpur. It is filled with colored sand, and when they run a metal rod against the chakpur's surface, the vibrations cause the colored grains to trickle from the funnel onto an intricate, circular pattern drawn on the wooden surface.

The work they create at the gallery is known as a mandala for unshakable energy, Phenthok explained. He said monks created similar patterns in New York and Washington, D.C., after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "The creation of the mandala can heal," he said.

To create the mandala, the monks use sand ground from white marble, colored with vegetable dyes and then blessed. It comes from their Drepung Loseling monastery in the state of Karnataka, India, near the community of Hubli.

Before they began, they held an opening ceremony with chants, music and mantra recitation. They worked on the sand painting for periods of time each day. On Sunday, despite all the effort, they will hold a closing ceremony where they sweep up the mandala.

Part of the sand is given to the public and part is poured into a nearby body of water ? in this case, the Grand Basin at Forest Park.

Phenthok said dispersing the blessed sand gives people a remembrance of the occasion. It also is intended to spread the blessing. "Then, it becomes a global healing," he said.

People are often touched by the whole process, he said. When monks created a mandala at the Mall of America in Minnesota, Phenthok said, some spectators began to cry because they were so disturbed at seeing all the work destroyed. He said it is not upsetting to the monks, who see a greater meaning in assembling and dismantling the mandalas.

A visitor to the museum, Michele Feder-Nadoff, 49, from Chicago, was among those who tried her hand at sand painting at a separate station set up for the public. She said she thought it would be an effective tool to help with meditation.

The monks' tour, known as the Mystical Arts of Tibet, seeks to raise money for food, education and medical help for Tibetans.