Tibetan Monks Paint for Peace

By Laura Banish, Journal Staff Writer, November 15, 2004

Santa Fe, New Mexico (USA) -- The low throaty chants of monks and the bellow of ancient Tibetan horns resounded in the high ceilings of Seret and Sons Gallery on Sunday to start a ceremonial sand painting for world peace.

Peace and healing can take many forms, but for the Tibetan monks of Drepung Loseling monastery it is illustrated with millions of grains of vividly colored sand put into a complex geometrical design. The monks will be working on the sand painting, also called a mandala, at the gallery today through Friday.

The opening ceremony Sunday spread a calm through the audience that was almost entrancing. Some people closed their eyes and swayed to the rhythm of the baritone voices, while others crossed their legs in zazen-like meditation poses.

"There's a beauty and a grace being here. It's just so beautiful, it transports people," Santa Fe resident Caroline Claggett said.

For Sonam Chhogyal Hormitsang, who was born in Tibet, the ritual literally felt like home. During the ceremony he sat perfectly still with his hands pressed together, massaged by the rise and fall of voices in his native tongue. Afterward, he spoke in Tibetan with several of the monks, including one who he learned is a nephew.

"This feels really good," Hormitsang said.

Hormitsang left Tibet in 1959? the year China's Communist government forced closure and destruction of the country's 6,500 monasteries. At that time, the Drepung monastery, established near Lhasa in 1416, was the largest in Tibet.

Today, the monks are refugees living in exile in southern India.

The mandala constructed this week will include images of the medicine Buddha. In Tibetan renderings of the medicine Buddha, the figure's left hand typically holds a blooming myrobalan plant that represents the eradication of all suffering.

"It's all rooted in love, kindness and truism," explained Tsepak Rigzin, a man who is translating for the monks during their current tour of the United States. "It will make this world a better place to live."

When finished, the sand painting will be destroyed to symbolize the impermanence of earthly life, and the colored sands will be poured into a nearby river. A closing ceremony will take place at noon Sunday at Seret and Sons Gallery at 121 Sandoval, next to Alpine Sports.

Those who wish to see the mandala in progress can visit the gallery between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. through Friday.

The monks will also perform Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Lensic Performing Arts Center. Tickets will range in price from $20 to $30 and can be purchased ahead of time or at the door.

For more information about the monks, visit the Web site at www.mysticalartsoftibet.org.

  • Tibetan monks Santa Fe events are free unless noted otherwise.
  • Sand painting in progress from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at Seret and Sons Gallery, 121 Sandoval.
  • Mystical Arts of Tibet performance Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Lensic Performing Arts Center, 225 W. San Francisco St. Tickets range in price from $20 to $30.
  • Sand painting to be dismantled in a closing ceremony Sunday at noon in the Seret and Sons Gallery.