Buddhist monks return to Steamboat after five years to paint mandala | SteamboatToday.com

Buddhist monks return to Steamboat after five years to paint mandala

Liz Forster

A member of the Drepung Loseling monks begins the transformation of the compassion Buddha mandala before more than 300 intensely curious onlookers in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library in 2010. The monks will return Tuesday for the first time since then to paint another mandala for the Steamboat community.

In 2010, Buddhist monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in south India enchanted the Steamboat Springs community as they swirled grains of colored sand into an intricate mandala and performed their Sacred Music Sacred Dance for World Healing performance. More than 9,000 people flocked to the Bud Werner Memorial Library that week to witness their artistry, carrying away more than just the fragments of the mandala the monks had distributed.

For the first time since that inaugural visit to Steamboat, the monks will return Wednesday to the library as part of their Mystical Arts of Tibet world tour to paint a Green Tara mandala, which symbolizes protection, health, happiness, wisdom, abundance and success for one's life

"We are honored to have something like this happen here in Steamboat," said the Bud Werner Memorial Library adult programs coordinator Jennie Lay. "Engaging the community in a wide range of cultural and educational opportunities is what we do all year long, so this is a special chance to maximize that effect in one of the more breathtaking ways we could imagine."

Their 2010 visit, during which they painted a mandala symbolizing compassion and community members painted their own designs, was just that: breathtaking, both on community and individual scales.

Local artist and event volunteer Dona Steele particularly remembers the otherworldly experience the monks brought, particularly during the cleansing ceremony at the end when the monks delivered signs of relief from a drought in the valley.

"They did a prayer for the valley, and before they could even finish spreading the remains of the mandala into the water, it started drizzling," said Steele. "They're good people to be in the presence of, to see their calming and joyful demeanor."

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Herb Roehrs, a Steamboat Springs resident and the driver for the monks in 2010, interacted on a more personal level with the monks. During one of his many private encounters with the monks, Rinpoche, the head monk of the trip, had forgotten his shoes at the library on the way to Strings in the Park.

"I asked him to come over to my house, and he instantly lit up," said Roehrs. "There he was, in his robes at our chicken coop blessing our chickens and in front of our shrine with a Buddha on it blessing our house. It was a wonderful experience for me personally to be rubbing elbows with these gentle monks."

Lay anticipates the monks' visit this year to impact and engage the community as much, if not more, than the first year.

"We're hoping the energy from the Green Tara mandala will permeate entire community," said Lay. "This is a sacred part of their life on display, but they seem to wholeheartedly embrace the chance to meet people who admire their work and their devotion. It's not a grim, uptight affair; it’s an event filled with excitement and great joy."

The monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery have traveled across the world sharing their culture through mandala painting and performances since 1988. They have featured their works at the Science Museum in San Fransisco, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Duke University and even the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, among others.

For more information on the monk’s visit in 2010, visit Lay’s blog Mandala on the Yampa.

To reach Liz Forster, call 970-871-4374, email lforster@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @LizMForster

If you go

All events are held at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and are free to the public.

Wednesday, July 29

11 to 11:30 a.m. Opening ceremony for mandala sand painting by the Drepung Loseling monks

11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Drawing of the lines and starting to work on the mandala sand painting

12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Community sand painting

Thursday, July 30

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mandala sand painting by the Drepung Loseling monks

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Community sand painting

Friday, July 31

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mandala sand painting by the Drepung Loseling monks

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Community sand painting

Saturday, August 1

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mandala sand painting by the Drepung Loseling monks

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Community sand painting

Sunday August 2

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mandala sand painting by the Drepung Loseling monks

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Community sand painting

6 p.m. Mandala sand painting concludes. The completed mandala is open for final viewing for one hour before the closing ceremony.

7 p.m. Closing ceremony, including the swishing away of the mandala in Library Hall before walking outside and along the banks of the Yampa River to send the mandala downstream.