Mount St. Joseph University played host to a very special group of individuals the week of Nov. 20. As part of their 2017 Sacred Arts Tour, Tibetan monks from Drepung Gomang Monastery in India, arrived at the Mount with a specific set of goals, most notably the creation (and deconstruction) of a sand mandala.
According to the monks, “Sand mandalas are drawings in three-dimensional forms of sand. In Tibetan, this art is called dul-tson-kyilkhor, which means ‘mandala of colored powders.’” It is a form of art that is created without the selfish attitude of monetary benefit. The monks argue that art made in this way has far more value.
They began work on the mandala Monday with an opening ceremony that involved the chanting of prayers of consecration and peace. This was not unusual, as everything involved with the mandala has some deeper meaning. The monks explain, “In Tibetan Buddhism, a mandala is an imaginary palace that is contemplated during meditation. Each object in the palace has significance, representing some aspect of wisdom or reminding the meditator of some guiding principle.”
Even the instruments used to apply the sand have meaning: “The sand, colored with vegetable dyes or opaque tempera, is poured onto the mandala platform with a narrow metal funnel called a ‘chakpur’ which is scraped by another metal rod to cause sufficient vibration for the grains of sand to trickle out of its end. The two ‘chakpurs’ are said to symbolize the union of wisdom and compassion.”
Throughout the week, the monks slowly and painstakingly made progress, taking breaks to speak with various classes about some of the other reasons for their tour. Mainly, they are on tour to share Tibetan Buddhist teachings and culture and to spread awareness of the plight of Tibetan refugees who have fled a nearly 60 year occupation by the Chinese.
As described on a flyer provided by the monks, a noble goal of the tour, was to “recognize well, and deeply, many great tragedies in the world, and to share sympathy and prayers together as human beings sharing this planet and future.”
The ultimate goal of their practices, enlightenment for the benefit of others, is summed up nicely by the XIV Dalai Lama, “Inner peace is the key: if you have inner peace, external problems do not affect your deep sense of tranquility… without this inner peace, no matter how comfortable your life is materially, you may still be worried, disturbed, or unhappy because of circumstance.”
When the monks completed their work, another ceremony was undertaken, the sand mandala deconstructed, and the sands dispersed--the entire project a meditation on the impermanent nature of things.
The process was something to see, and the monks, a good deal more interesting to listen to than most. If you didn’t make it to see them this year you missed out, but if you’d like to learn more about them, their religious practices, or the Sacred Arts Tour, you can visit their website at http://www.drepunggomang.org/