Tibetan Monks Visit Allan Hancock College

As part of their nationwide 2017 Sacred Arts Tour, monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery spent four days, and over sixty hours, creating a Medicine Buddha Sand Mandala at the Allan Hancock College Ann Foxworthy Gallery.  

The Tibetan monks visited the Central Coast from southern India by way of the monastery North American seat in Louisville Kentucky, the Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion.  The purpose of the Sacred Arts Tour is to keep their traditions alive by sharing their rich cultural diversity, to bring awareness to the ongoing plight of Tibetans after fifty years of Communist Chinese occupation, and to raise donations to help support their way of life at the Monastery.

The Drepung Gomang monks are renowned for sand mandala construction, a sacred art that was traditionally created under complete secrecy at the monastery by the holiest monks.  Any misplacement of sand was considered an imperfection of the mandala intention.  As Allan Hancock fine art instructor and gallery director Marti Fast explained, 典oday we are blessed to witness this rare event and are not so hard on the artisans.

The monks create various mandalas on their tour, each one unique to the needs of the location they are visiting, and each one an incredible feat of beauty and detail.  The process if fascinating to watch, as the artists fill thin metal cones called chak-purs with fine, colored sand that is transferred to a marked board grain by applying gentle, rhythmic vibrations to the tool.  The creation is an active meditation for the monks and can have a meditative effect for those watching as well.

Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning osmogram・or orld in harmony・and depicts a palace as viewed from the sky.  Each object within the mandala has meaning and there are many different designs, including the Medicine Buddha created especially for Hancock to bring health and healing.

The Foxworthy Gallery was open from 10-5 each day and visitors were not only able to watch the creation of the sand mandala, but also experience different cultural aspects of the tour.  Mornings began with chanting, led by the Geshe (the senior member and leader of the tour group) to consecrate the space and bless those within it and evenings concluded in the same manner, consecrating what had been created and blessing those who took part.  

As the mandala took shape, each monk sat on a cushion, hunched over the board, and slowly moved from the center outward.  Guests were invited to take photographs, speak with the monks that walked around the room, and purchase Tibetan goods from the tables in the lobby, including necklaces, journals, skirts, and CDs.  Hand-crafted bracelets were blessed by the monks upon request, which was a special, spiritual experience in itself.

In addition to the sand mandala and chanting, the monks shared other cultural experiences as well.  The lighthearted Snow Leopard and Tibetan Yak dances (complete with two-person animal costumes) was performed outdoors, accompanied by drums and bells, and was thoroughly enjoyed by audience members both young and old.  They also conducted an immensely entertaining debate that combined philosophical discussion with a little bit of showmanship, humor, and Tibetan razzing.

The life of a monk is multi-faceted and one aspect they embrace in their art is the Buddhist concept of Impermanence that states nothing in life is permanent and change is inevitable.  In keeping with this teaching, at the end of their four days, the visiting monks held a Deconstruction Ceremony that concluded in sweeping the painstakingly created mandala into a pile.  Small bags of sand were distributed and the rest was taken to a body of running water, releasing the intention in each grain, and the blessings of the healing mandala, into the universe.

By Rebecca Ross