Tibetan Buddhist monk begins creation of sand mandala

Everything Alabama, December 2, 2007

Birmingham, Alabama (USA) -- Patience, stamina and a steady hand - essential requirements for most artists. Add a lifetime of spiritual devotion, metal scraping tools and several vessels of colored sand, and you have one of the most exquisite art forms imaginable.

Lama Tenzin Deshek, who leads a group of Buddhist practitioners in a small space at a Cahaba Heights strip mall, will depart from his weekly disclosures of dharma wisdom to create a sand mandala. As a youth, Deshek escaped the tyranny of the Chinese army by traversing the Himalayas from his native Tibet to Dharamsala, India, where he learned the art of mandala creation.

A colorful display depicting Buddhist symbols and patterns in concentric squares and circles, each mandala represents a particular deity. Customarily, it's created by a group of monks standing at various angles around a table, but because Deshek is Birmingham's only Tibetan Buddhist monk, he's taking on the task alone.

Sand mandalas aren't new to Birmingham. Deshek last demonstrated the art in March 2006 in the McWane Science Center lobby, alternately scraping sand and fielding questions with a friendly smile. The feat was preceded in December 2004 and December 2003 at Energy Pointe Institute in Southside. All three were done solo by Deshek. A group of monks from Drepung Loseling monastery created another in the Birmingham Museum of Art lobby in March 2003.

Deshek will take 15 days to complete the work, after which it will be ceremonially swept up and destroyed. The event takes place today through Dec. 16 at Losel Maitri Buddhist Center, 3118 Bellwood Drive, near the intersection of Cahaba Heights Road, Pump House Road and Dolly Ridge Road. The free event is open Monday through Friday, 2-7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.