Tibetan monks paint sand mandala in Steamboat
August 15, 2010
Check out the monks’ blog
The Bud Werner Memorial Library is following the progress of the Drepung Loseling monks’ sand mandala on its photo and video blog. Visit the website at http://mandalaontheyampa.wordpress.com.
Check out the monks’ blog
The Bud Werner Memorial Library is following the progress of the Drepung Loseling monks' sand mandala on its photo and video blog. Visit the website at http://mandalaontheyampa.wordpress.com.
Steamboat Springs — The air inside the Bud Werner Memorial Library Hall was charged with vibrations that reached the far corners of the room. In the crowd of about 200 people, some sat with their eyes closed, swaying and silently smiling.
Some wiped tears from their eyes as nine robe-clad Tibetan monks used their voices to chant and pray to invisible beings, purifying the space they soon were to use to create a work of art.
In the eyes of Gala Rinpoche, a monk at the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India, that work of art, a sand mandala embodying the spirit of compassion, will have a peaceful and karmic effect on the Steamboat Springs community.
"It's beautiful for the inhabitants and its environment," Rinpoche said. "And even people who don't believe (in Buddhism), it will have a strong impact on their mental attitude. People come sometimes with a heavy heart, when they come and view the mandala they leave with a smile."
Library adult program coordinator Jennie Lay said she was feeling "over the top" about the monks' arrival in Steamboat and the beginning of the meditative sand-painting process.
"I'm so thrilled so many people came to have this experience," she said about Saturday's ceremony. "The vibration in the room was incredible. I think everybody felt that. I mean, this is our entire old library, and the sound in there … it was really beautiful."
The monks will work for five days on the project, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Wednesday.
Library Hall will be open for visitors to follow the monks' progress as they place grains of colorful sand one-by-one on the table.
When it's finished Wednesday, the design, which is called a "compassion Buddha" mandala, will stand completed for just about an hour before it is whisked away.
"It's the universe in divine form," Rinpoche said about the mandala-making process. "It tells the story of the evolution of the universe."
A significant part of that story is impermanence. The attachment to the things around us, including the attachment to mortality, is what causes suffering in the world, according to the Buddhist faith.
Compassion is the foundation of the Buddhist's path to alleviate suffering and achieve enlightenment, Rinpoche said.
"In every individual, every society, without compassion, we're like dead persons," he said. "And the main purpose of being is the desire of happiness."
And the monks, who have been in the United States for about three months creating about 20 mandalas while on their national tour, embody happiness and a calm sense of focus, despite being exiled from their home in Tibet and oppressed by the communist Chinese government.
Before the ceremony, they sat in a conference room reading Buddhist philosophy books in Tibetan and drinking black tea with milk.
Rinpoche said his group of monks trained for about seven years before they were allowed to tour the world making mandalas. They train in chanting and the gentle, mindful breath needed to concentrate and focus on the sand painting without accidentally blowing a single grain out of its rightful place.
But what the mandala symbolizes is more important than its perceived physical beauty.
"There is no beautiful or ugly," he said. "We look from the angle of compassionate eyes, then we will appreciate its qualities."
Many members of the community will have the chance to appreciate the steadiness and mindfulness with which the monks work when they participate in the community sand painting effort occurring at a table next to the monks' design.
Debi Champlin, a local artist and interior designer, designed a Yampa Valley-inspired mandala — the monks' designs come directly from Buddhist scripture — for anyone to work on throughout the week.
Anyone can pick up a "chak-pur," or metal funnel used to deposit the sand, and follow the bright color scheme to add to the creation.
"I was thrilled to have something out there the whole community could be involved with," she said, watching people line up to paint with pink and turquoise sand. "And look at how happy they are."
But, that too, will be whisked away and floated down the Yampa River on Wednesday to symbolize the ever-changing reality of nature.
Mark Helle, a Steamboat Springs resident who is active in the Buddhist community, is hosting several of the monks at his family's home.
He said having the monks in town, wandering the Yampa River Core Trail and soaking in the hot springs in addition to creating art, will lift the community as a whole.
"We're bringing everyone together," Helle said. "We're compassionately connecting people, but impermanence is the root of it all.
"The Dalai Lama said that when your karma is ready to ripen, you'll be touched. The ceremony was beautiful and moving. The karmic seeds are being planted."