Tibetan monks to complete mandala today

By BETH DURBIN, Mount Vernon News Staff Writer, February 11, 2005

GAMBIER, Ohio (USA) -- Students at Kenyon College had something different to study when they went to the campus library this week. Tibetan Buddhist monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery were in the atrium of Olin Library constructing a mandala sand painting amidst a background recording of monastic chanting. The event was sponsored by the Circle K Club at Kenyon, a Kiwanis-sponsored organization.

Mandalas is a Sanskrit word meaning sacred cosmograms and are used as tools for reconstructing the earth and healing its inhabitants. These cosmograms can be created in various media but the most spectacular and popular are those made from colored sand.

The mandala at Kenyon began on Wednesday with an opening ceremony of music, chants and mantra recitation. Then the monks spent the afternoon drawing the line design for the mandala on a chalkboard painted wood platform. The formal geometric pattern is actually the floor plan of a sacred mansion.

In general, all mandalas have outer, inner and sacred meanings. On the outer level they present the world in its divine form; on the inner level they represent a map by which the ordinary human mind is transformed into an enlightened mind; and on the sacred level they depict the primordially perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind.

To construct the mandala, millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place over a period of days or weeks using metal funnels called chak-purs. Each monk holds a chak-pur in one hand, while running a metal rod on its ridged surface; the vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid.

Upon completion, the mandala is destroyed to symbolize the impermanence of all that exists. The colored sands are swept up and poured into a nearby river or stream where the waters carry the healing energies throughout the world.

According to spokesperson Thupten Chosang, the monks working on the mandala at Kenyon received their training from the Drepung Monastery in South India.

The monastery was established near Lhasa, Tibet in 1416 in order to transmit the ancient Buddhist arts and sciences. At one point it housed more than 10,000 Buddhist monks.

Shortly after the Chinese communist invasion in 1959, Drepung Loweling was closed. Most of its monks were either killed or placed in concentration camps.

Approximately 250 of the monks escaped the holocaust, walking over the Himalayas to India, where in 1969 they re-established a replica of their institution in the refugee camps of Karnataka State, India.

The Drepung Loseling Institute in Atlanta, Ga. was formed in 1991 to establish a presence in the United States.

Chosang said 55 mandalas are constructed across the United States by the Drepung Loseling monks each year. He said mandalas were constructed in New York City and Washington, D. C., following 9-11 to promoted healing, strength and power. The group working on the mandala at Kenyon have been in the United States since 2003 and will return to India in June.

Chosang explained the practice of mandala art form is to first promote peace and to leave an impact on the people in the area it is created. Secondly, the mandalas help raise awareness of the Chinese occupation of Tibet and gather support for continued efforts to a peaceful resolution. Third, the mandalas raise awareness of the monasteries themselves which helps toward funding the learning and living needs of the monks.

At the 2 p.m. closing ceremony today, the monks will dismantle the mandala. Half of the sand will be distributed to the audience as a blessing for personal health and healing.

The remaining sand will be carried in a procession by the monks to the Kokosing River. The sand will be ceremonially poured into the water, dispersing the healing energies throughout the world.