Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 31
Tibetan Buddhist monks will construct a sacred sand mandala at Allan Hancock College
BY JOE PAYNE
A group of Tibetan Buddhist monks has been making its way across the United States sharing cultural art forms and philosophies. Now on the Central Coast, the group—which hails from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in India—will be presenting several cultural pageants locally as well as creating an intricate sand mandala at Allan Hancock College over the course of several days.
A sand mandala means many things, explained Geshe Lobsang Tsetsen, the leading teacher among the monks. Tsetsen was tasked with learning English from the Dalai Lama himself so he could better relate Buddhist ideas to Americans on the yearlong tour the group is taking part in.
“The sand mandala, it is a technical meditation,” Tsetsen said. “This is a tradition of hundreds of years. It’s not just colorful designs.”
The intricate, circular designs take days for the monks to complete and, most famously, are dismantled after completion. The “Sacred Art of the Sand Mandala” program at Allan Hancock College will start on Tuesday, Oct. 15, and run each day until a closing ceremony on Friday, Oct. 18.
“People say, ‘You make really hard thing, day by day, so why do you destroy?’” Tsetsen said. “The sand mandala is very beautiful and colorful, but it is really temporary, not permanent. It is showing impermanence. That kind of emotion brings us suffering, so we have to remove that kind of emotion.”
This is the heart of Buddhist philosophy that was laid out by Siddhartha Guatama, the original Buddha, in his “Four Noble Truths.” All is impermanent. Our lives are temporary, our youth is temporary, and all material things are temporary. Only by embracing these truths can we truly “wake up.”
“Buddha himself was born in a luxurious house, born in the royal family, but there is not happiness in those external things,” Tsetsen said. “He wanted to know how to find real, genuine happiness.”
A sand mandala maps out the kind of organized clarity that comes from years of meditation. Different mandalas mean different things: There are mandalas of wisdom and impermanence, mandalas of healing, of peace, even interfaith mandalas, the Geshe explained. The sand used in the Zen color wheels comes all the way from the monastery in India, where monks mix pulverized white stone with vegetables to get chemical-free colors. Once completed, the mandala sand at Hancock College will be scooped up and poured into the ocean.
“We put mandala in the ocean or big river because in there is life, fish, and animals, so also the water and the life in the water is blessed,” Tsetsen said. “We believe in water, a water god. If they get blessed by the sand mandala, they are happy and bring the power of rain.”
Tsetsen will lead meditations around the mandala as well as talk and teach about the significance of the specific mandala to be made at Hancock. He and the monks will also present several cultural pageants at local churches that include the sharing of handicrafts, music, and dance. The monks have already completed several programs and mandalas in San Luis Obispo County.
“We chanted for wisdom because there were so many small children,” Tsetsen said. “Then we chanted for peace in the world, and then we talked about the environment. We danced a slow line dance, and with the small children we designed drawings with them.”
The monks are far from proselytizing Buddhism as a religion, but are rather sharing their cultural art forms as examples of their philosophy. The monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery are well known for engaging in daily philosophical debate on many subjects, using symbolic body language rather than just words. This debate style will be presented as part of the cultural pageants.
“Some Buddhists say it is not a religion, because it looks like science,” Tsetsen said. “I can say it is both, religion and also science. And also, His Holiness the Dalai Lama says Buddhism is philosophy, religion, and science.
“Buddhist science and philosophy is useful for everyone,” he added.
The debates supplement the wealth of inner work the Buddhists do by meditating. The inner work is the true “Middle Way” of Buddhism that can provide relief from suffering, a point the monks and Tsetsen hope to show by example.
“My teaching is about reducing inner negative emotion. This is why I am visiting in America, this is my purpose,” he said. “This is really important in our modern time because people are killing each other because of ignorance, because of hatred and anger. For that reason we have problems again and again.”
Despite sand mandalas being destined to pass, just like everything else, they do give people joy.
“People feel different emotions and feelings when they see mandalas,” Tsetsen said. “They really make people happy. If they understand or don’t understand, people have special feelings when they see mandalas.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne needs more time under the Bodhi tree. Contact him at email@example.com.
SAND MEN: Tibetan Buddhist monks created this art on their second day of mandala creation at the Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo. The monks, from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in India, will be creating a complex sand mandala at Allan Hancock College Oct. 15 through 18.
VIDEO BY STEVE E. MILLER