Monks prove creation and destruction arenít so different after all

By MICHAEL AMES, Idaho Mountain Express, May 24, 2006

Wellness Festival hosts closing of “Art of Tibet”

Sun Valley, Idaho (USA) -- People talk about doing things that are "meditative." We talk about the most banal acts—painting a fence, watering the garden, filing our nails—and from these things, we somehow draw this pleasure, this "meditation."

<< A monk works of a mandala. Tibetan monks will be creating a mandala at The Center this weekend.

In Buddhism, meditation is both a specific practice and a coveted state of mind. In the sense of the organized, ecclesiastical aspects of the religion, meditation refers to a devotional practice: time spent quietly sitting, sometimes chanting or burning incense, sometimes contemplating the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) or a paradoxical Zen Koan. (What is the sound of one hand clapping anyway?)

Tibetan monks spend hours each day practicing meditation. However, for them and all people on roads to high levels of Buddhism meditation is not limited to these proscribed practices. For the advanced spiritualist, meditation is a constant mind-state, attainable while working, walking or creating art.

Buddhist monks have been creating mandalas for centuries. An intricate painting bearing universal or religious significance, mandalas are often constructed from millions of grains of colored sand. The entire life span of a mandala is a meditative act: from the mental inception of its form, to the "meditational" laying of sand within its drawn parameters, to the final, ceremonial destruction. After days of work, the monks simply ruin their creation. This final act is a demonstration of the inherent temporal nature of all things, a core Buddhist belief.

Beginning with a site consecration this Friday at 12:15 p.m., the Drepung Loseling monks will be constructing a mandala at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum. A community mandala—an interactive project that all are welcome to participate in—will also be constructed in a side-room at the Center throughout the weekend.

The monks are providing a full schedule of events for the community to attend this weekend, all with the aim of furthering knowledge about and appreciation for Tibetan culture.

On Thursday night the monks will perform a Sacred Music, Sacred Dance performance in the Limelight Room in the Sun Valley Inn. The performance will highlight the multi-phonic talents of the monks, who have each harnessed the highest potential of the human vocal chords by creating more than one sound, at more than one pitch, at one time. The monks have performed this feat on stages throughout the world, both alone and together with musicians as varied as the Beastie Boys and Paul Simon.

"People who have seen (the performance) ... described the experience as hypnotic and transformative," said Kathryn Maguet, Director of Performing Arts for the Center.

Construction of the mandalas begins in Ketchum on Friday. Work will continue on them throughout the weekend.

On Sunday the monks take a break from formal meditation practice for a lecture held in conjunction with the Sun Valley Wellness Festival. The talk, "Opening the Heart: Arousing the Mind of Universal Kindness," will be given at 2 p.m. in the Continental Room in the Sun Valley Inn.

On Monday, Memorial Day, the Monks will finalize the mandala creation with its ceremonial destruction. The closing ceremonies will be held from noon-3 p.m. at the Center in Ketchum, with the actual mandala destruction happening at 3 p.m., when the monks will walk their creation to the Big Wood River and scatter the sand to the rushing waters.

If you go

Thursday, 7 p.m.: Sacred Dance and Music with the Drepung Loseling Monks in the Limelight Room, Sun Valley Inn. Tickets: available at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts are $15 (members), $20 (non-members). Children under twelve will be admitted for free.

Friday, 12:15-5 p.m.: Opening ceremonies for mandala construction at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Ketchum.

Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.: Ongoing Mandala construction at the Center.

Sunday, Noon-5 p.m.: Mandala closing with ending ceremonies beginning at 3 p.m. with a walk to the Big Wood River to scatter the mandala's sand. 2 p.m.: Wellness Festival Lecture in the Continental Room, Sun Valley Inn.