Tibetan Buddhist Monk Sand Painting Coming to Spartanburg

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Tibetan Buddhist monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta, GA, will construct a Mandala Sand Painting Monday-Friday, Sept. 30-Oct. 4, at Chapman Cultural Center, and the public is invited to participate in this cultural, artistic and spiritual project brought to Spartanburg by Converse, Wofford College and Chapman Cultural Center. View the complete schedule on the Converse events calendar, and find additional information on the Wofford College website and Chapman Cultural Center event page.

“We live in a world of religious diversity and must learn how to live with one another peacefully,” said Jason Loscuito, Converse chaplain and co-author of the South Carolina Humanities Council grant that provides funding for the event. “The ‘Mystical Arts of Tibet’ will provide the Spartanburg community the opportunity to see a spiritual practice within Tibetan Buddhism and encounter a worldview that is different from our own.”

From all the artistic traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most captivating and exquisite.

“If you are looking for some sort of enlightenment, this ‘Mystical Arts of Tibet’ program will be a perfect opportunity to start right here in Spartanburg,” Trina Janiec Jones, Ph.D., associate professor of religion at Wofford College, said. She is one of the several people responsible for paving the path for the exiled monks to visit the Upstate. “At the most basic level, this will be a great opportunity see the monks create a beautiful, colorful and unique mandala sand painting in the lobby of the theater at Chapman Cultural Center. It will be a large circular design, created by funneling colored sand. The process of its creation is very intense, yet relaxing and meditative. And knowing that once the 30-plus hours of work are completed, the mandala will soon be destroyed and the sand poured into a natural source of running water adds a real sort of gravity to the event. Talk about the circle of life!”

From all the artistic traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most captivating and exquisite. Millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks to form the image of a mandala. To date, the monks have created mandala sand paintings in more than 100 museums, art centers, and colleges and universities in the United States and Europe.

Following the legacy of Drepung Loseling Monastery in India, and with the patronage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Drepung Loseling is dedicated to the study and preservation of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of wisdom and compassion. With roots that go back centuries, the North American Seat of Drepung Loseling Monastery is now affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta. A center for the cultivation of both heart and intellect, it provides a sanctuary for the nurturance of inner peace and kindness, community understanding, and global healing.

The monks first came to the United States as part of their exile from China in 1959. “The Tibetan Buddhist monks have a long and complicated history,” Dr. Jones said. “When they were exiled in 1959, so much was scattered and in danger of being lost forever. Of course, everyone has heard about the Dalai Lama's being in exile. We are most fortunate that a group made its new home in Georgia and from there they are spreading their philosophy, art and culture.”

Mandala is a Sanskrit word literally meaning "circle" or "disk," and is often translated as "sacred cosmogram." These cosmograms can be created in various media, such as watercolor on canvas, woodcarvings, and so forth. However, the most spectacular and enduringly popular are those made from colored sand. In general, all mandalas have outer, inner and secret meanings. On the outer level they represent the world in its divine form; on the inner level they represent a map by which the ordinary human mind is transformed into enlightened mind; and on the esoteric level they depict the primordially perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind. The creation of a sand painting is said to effect purification and healing on these three levels.

The mandala sand painting begins with an opening ceremony, during which the lamas consecrate the site and call forth the forces of goodness. This is done by means of chanting, music and mantra recitation, and will be held on Monday, Sept. 30, at noon. The public is invited to this free experience.

The lamas begin the exhibit by drawing an outline of the mandala on the wooden platform. On the following days they lay the colored sands. Each monk holds a traditional metal funnel called a chakpur, while running a metal rod on its grated surface. The vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid onto the platform. The public is invited to watch this process Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Thursday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and Friday 10 a.m.-noon, when the deconstruction ceremony begins. Viewing the mandala’s creation and destruction is a free community event.

On the final night—Thursday—of the monks’ five-day visit, they will enact a demonstration of sacred music and dance in the Chapman Cultural Center Theater. The concert will comprise several different segments of chanting and dancing, each of which will be introduced and explained by a narrator. Admission will be $10 per student and $20 for others.

Throughout the monks’ visit, there will be several free community lectures on related topics. Most of the lectures will be given by college professors from Wofford or Converse. All of the lectures will be Chapman Cultural Center. For details please see sidebar schedule.

Traditionally most sand mandalas are destroyed shortly after their completion. This is done as a metaphor for the impermanence of life. The sands are swept up and placed in an urn; to fulfill the function of healing, half is distributed to the audience at the closing ceremony, while the remainder is carried to a nearby body of water, where it is deposited. The waters then carry the healing blessing to the ocean, and from there it spreads throughout the world for planetary healing. The closing “deconstruction ceremony” will be held on Friday, Oct. 3, starting at noon. The public is invited to the closing ceremony and to walk with the monks to a nearby creek to deliver the sand into the flow of cosmic awareness.

For more information, please call (864) 542-ARTS.