Mandala sand painting by the visiting Drepung Loseling monks begins Wednesday | SteamboatToday.com

Mandala sand painting by the visiting Drepung Loseling monks begins Wednesday

For the first time since 2010, the Drepung Loseling monks will be back in Steamboat to create their mesmerizing mandala sand painting over the course of five days. This ancient art form also called dul-tson-kyil-khor, meaning “Mandala of colored powders” is used as a tool for purifying and healing the environment and those who inhabit it. Each mandala the monks create in various communities they travel to is unique.





For the first time since 2010, the Drepung Loseling monks will be back in Steamboat to create their mesmerizing mandala sand painting over the course of five days. This ancient art form also called dul-tson-kyil-khor, meaning "Mandala of colored powders" is used as a tool for purifying and healing the environment and those who inhabit it. Each mandala the monks create in various communities they travel to is unique.

— From the Himalayas to Steamboat Springs, a rare and beautiful art form will travel to town this week.

Starting today, six visiting monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery will lay down millions of grains of colorful sand to form a mesmerizing, intricately designed mandala image. The work will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. over the next five days at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.

As part of their Mystical Arts of Tibet world tour, the monks will return to Steamboat five years after their inaugural visit. The tour itself began in 1988, and each monk selected will travel with the group for 15 months, giving lectures and workshops in addition to creating the Green Tara mandala, which is a symbol for protection, health, happiness, wisdom, abundance and success in one's life.

While the monks diligently work on their mandala, the community is invited to watch and experience their culture and partake in the hands-on community sand painting.

Kicking off the festivities, today's opening ceremony for the mandala sand painting will be from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Following the ceremony, the monks will begin drawing the lines and start working on the mandala sand painting. The community sand painting will begin shortly after, at 12:30 p.m.

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In Sanskrit the word "mandala" means sacred cosmogram — a flat geometric figure — crafted in varying forms of media that include watercolor on a canvas, wood carvings and colored sand.

Earlier this week, Khentul Rinpoche, head lama and spokesperson for the group, spoke with Steamboat Today about this ancient art form, also called dul-tson-kyil-khor, meaning "Mandala of colored powders" and is used as a tool for purifying and healing the environment and those who inhabit it.

Steamboat Today: Why is it important for you to travel all over the world on this tour?

Khentul Rinpoche: We have three agendas for touring the United States. The first is to spread the message of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, that the world has to come together in the spirit of oneness of humanity, in the sense that we all have the basic right to be happy and to be free of suffering, which he also describes as Secular Ethic. The second agenda is to bring a grassroots level awareness to the Tibetan struggle. Lastly, the third is to raise funds for the Drepung Loseling Monastery back in India to meet the needs of over 3,000 monks in terms of food, housing, medical assistance, etc.

ST: What is it that you hope the Steamboat community will learn by attending the ceremonies and seeing the process of the mandala sand painting? 

KR: We are hopeful that the Steamboat community will appreciate the rich cultural heritage of Tibet and the inner values the mandala signifies in the forms of compassion, mindfulness, etc.

ST: Where do you find inspiration for the mandala sand paintings?

KR: We find inspiration from the term “mandala” itself. It is a Sanskrit word and means, ‘extracting the essence,’ therefore, each image and color conveys a certain technique to achieve the ultimate state of "Buddha-hood" and these elements are at the core and the essence of our practice. So we draw inspiration from mandala in the sense that it is the blueprint of our spiritual path. Another source of inspiration is that its energy helps bring healing to the environment and its inhabitants. 

ST: What are some of the steps you work through to create the mandala sand painting? Do all of you decide on what image you will make prior, or is it something that happens spontaneously? 

KR: Some of the steps required is to train oneself to be disciplined on a mental and physical level. We have to be in a concentrated meditative state, where even the breathing has to be regulated, as it might blow away the sands if exhaled too strongly, while also keeping in mind that a shallow breath will cause the body to tense up. One key step is to master the art of working the instruments, called "chakpur," a metal funnel with ridges down the sides, and "thurma," a metal stick. Each monk holds a chakpur in one hand while running a metal rod on its grated surface, this vibration causes the sand to flow like liquid. We must also remember, in detail, the instructor of mandala, memorized from "Sutra," written by Lord Buddha himself more than 2,500 years ago. So each of the mandala's details are pre-scripted.

ST: How do you prepare for a mandala sand painting in each community?


KR: We prepare for the mandala by launching it with an opening prayer in which we invoke the blessings of the relevant deity and consecrate the site to make it spiritually suitable for the mandala.

ST: Are each of your paintings unique? How are they different from one another?

KR: Yes, each of the mandalas are unique, because each has different images portraying different deities and its retinues. Differences are mostly in the center of the mandala, and there are similar features in each mandala as well. But each belongs to different levels of Tantric systems, and these mandala differ in major from one another.

ST: Do different sand mandalas generate different healing energies? How do you determine what healing energies each community needs? 

KR: We hardly determine which theme of mandala to choose from. It is a call taken by the host. We have been asked to do the Goddess Green Tara Mandala in Steamboat Springs. Each deity has its own speciality area. The Green Tara has the special power in providing things in abundance. It also signifies the Buddha of Compassion, which has a special prowess in bringing compassionate healing. The mandala of certain deities has the capacity to generate healing in correspondence to the relevant deity.

ST: What have you learned on this tour that has significantly influenced your life? 

KR: The U.S. tour has been a great learning process for the monks that has brought great exposure to us of a new culture. Observance of civic discipline, rule of law, free society, etc. has enriched our thoughts.

ST: What would you say is the most important element when creating the mandala sand painting?  

KR: The most important element when creating the mandala is the motivation — not to expect adulation but to be motivated by an altruistic intention.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

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, Aug. 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, Aug. 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 will be 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.