The mystical spirit of Tibet

Monks on tour to raise funds and awareness for India, Nepal
Thursday, September 28, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:36 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008


Tibetan monks Pema Wangden, left, and Sonam Gyedon create a mandala out of colored sand inside MU’s Memorial Union on Wednesday. The group of monks is touring the U.S. to raise money and awareness for refugees in India and Nepal.


Three Tibetan monks on Tuesday began pouring millions of grains of colored sand through metal funnels called chakpur, transforming a flat platform into a sophisticated mandala.

The mandala, a centerpiece of the “Mystical Arts of Tibet” tour, will be finished today and dismantled during a closing ceremony at 3 p.m. in Scatter Lounge at MU’s Memorial Union. The ritual art performance of chants, music and mantra recitations is designed to introduce traditional art displays and help explain authentic Tibetan culture and Buddhism.

“We do this to share and enhance Tibet culture by bring Tibetan ancient culture to different belief systems,” said Thupten Tendhar, a Tibetan translator and monk who travels with the group. “We also try to make awareness to endangered Tibetan culture and raise funds for monks and refugees in India and Nepal who need help.”

“Before coming to America, I had imagined America as a big country full of technology — all materials and buildings,” Tendhar said. “But I also see people curious to learn about spiritual practices. Technology and material is not enough to bring happiness. People need peace and harmony in their lives.”

There are different types of mandalas to fit different purposes: “amitayu” for longevity, “avalokateshvara” for love and compassion, “medicine” for healing, “akshovya” for conflict resolution, and “whitetara” for healing energy. The monks chose “greentara,” which portrays a powerful female figure, for their visit to Columbia.

Once the work is done, the monks will sweep up the colored sands and pour them into a bag.

“Dismantling the sand symbolizes the impermanence of all that exists,” Tendhar said. “Everything changes, and nothing lasts forever.”

After the closing ceremony, the monks will distribute sand to people as blessings for personal health and healing. The rest of the sand will be dispersed to the creeks of Peace Park near Ninth and Elm streets to spread the mandala’s healing energies.

Drepung Loseling Institute in Atlanta first coordinated the “Mystical Arts of Tibet” in the late 1980s to bring knowledge of the Tibetan Buddhist arts and to help preserve the endangered Tibetan culture. Ten Tibetan monks are tra­veling around the U.S. for one year, ­performing mandala and sacred dances.

Persephone Dakopolos, senior chair of the International Program Committee at MU, coordinated this year’s event to bring a different culture to campus and promote international students’ interests.

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