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10 Tibetan monks, 20 hours and a whole lot of sand: Monks create work of 'peace' at UMass

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Jampa Sherab, a Tibetan monk from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State, carefully pours sand onto a mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    Jampa Sherab, a Tibetan monk from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State, carefully pours sand onto a mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State construct a sand mandala Thursday afternoon at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State construct a sand mandala Thursday afternoon at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>A Tibetan monk from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State carefully pours sand onto a mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    A Tibetan monk from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State carefully pours sand onto a mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>From left, Elaine Wills and Jerry Wills of Point Pleasant, N.J., and their daughter, UMass freshman Arianna Wills, watch as Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State construct a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    From left, Elaine Wills and Jerry Wills of Point Pleasant, N.J., and their daughter, UMass freshman Arianna Wills, watch as Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State construct a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State construct a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State construct a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>A table adorned with a portrait of the Dalai Lama and other items sits near a table where Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State are constructing a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    A table adorned with a portrait of the Dalai Lama and other items sits near a table where Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State are constructing a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Sonam Nendak, left, and Jampa Sherab, Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State, construct a sand mandala Thursday afternoon at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    Sonam Nendak, left, and Jampa Sherab, Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State, construct a sand mandala Thursday afternoon at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Jampa Sherab, left, and Sonam Nendak, Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State, construct a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    Jampa Sherab, left, and Sonam Nendak, Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State, construct a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Jampa Sherab, a Tibetan monk from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State, carefully pours sand onto a mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State construct a sand mandala Thursday afternoon at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>A Tibetan monk from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State carefully pours sand onto a mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>From left, Elaine Wills and Jerry Wills of Point Pleasant, N.J., and their daughter, UMass freshman Arianna Wills, watch as Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State construct a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State construct a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>A table adorned with a portrait of the Dalai Lama and other items sits near a table where Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State are constructing a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Sonam Nendak, left, and Jampa Sherab, Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State, construct a sand mandala Thursday afternoon at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>Jampa Sherab, left, and Sonam Nendak, Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India's Karnataka State, construct a sand mandala at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center Thursday afternoon.

At the end of three days, the team of monks had created a 5-by-5-foot piece, called a mandala, consisting of geometric shapes and ancient spiritual symbols. Given the rising violence in the world, they said, they hope it will deliver a message of love, compassion and respect for others.

“It is our hope that the creation of the mandala will bring peace and harmony to the area and its inhabitants,” said Rinpoche Chung Tulku, the leader of the team, through interpreter Lobsang Norbu.

By Friday afternoon, though, the artwork, which represents reconsecrating the Earth and its inhabitants, was swept away, with a portion of the sand from the blessing placed in the Campus Pond to flow away from campus.

“The message of world peace and harmony is something I think we can all embrace,” said UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who spoke at a welcoming reception.

The event was planned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Asian Arts and Culture Program at UMass, said Renjanaa Devi, the program’s director. The overall theme is healing of the planet,” she said.

The monks, who practice the ancient sacred art of Tantric Buddhism, come from the centuries-old Drepung Loseling Monastery in Karnataka State in South India. They are among the more than 3,000 monks affiliated with the monastery who were expelled from Tibet following the Chinese Communist invasion of 1959 that led to the destruction of 6,500 monasteries.

The visit, as part of the Mystical Arts of Tibet world tour, provides an important means of demonstrating what the university can offer its students, Subbaswamy said. “This is a place where we take pride in sending students to the world and bringing the world to the students and the community,” Subbaswamy said.

Amherst and surrounding communities are ideal places to showcase the tenets of Buddhism, he said. “The psyche of the Valley is very much along those lines.”

For the monks, the tours are an important means of raising money to preserve their culture. In 1991, the Drepung Loseling monks established a nonprofit in Atlanta to study and preserve Buddhist principles. They also have an academic affiliation with Emory University there.

The university paid $6,500 to the monks to have them come to the campus, in addition to lodging and meal costs. The event was co-sponsored by the UMass Students for a Free Tibet organization.

A short life

The mandala-making began Wednesday with an opening ceremony, known as the sa-cho, or the Earth recital. Wearing maroon and yellow robes, the members of the team proceeded to the stage where they stood behind a table and, donning headdresses, began a ritual to bless the site on which the mandala would be created. Norbu explained that this is necessary to ensure there are no hindrances or obstacles to making the mandala.

There was chanting, meditation and a mantra recitation. Some of the monks also played instruments, including two long horns and two short flutes. At the end the monks began sprinkling the sand and taking measurements, drawing chalk lines for the placement of the artwork.

To do the work, the monks filled narrow metal tubes, known as chak-purs, with colored sand, and then rubbed the sides of the grated surface of the tubes with metal sticks, making chiming sounds. This process causes the sand to flow out slowly and evenly onto the surface.

At the end of the week, the mandala was destroyed, showing the impermanence of everything on Earth. The sand was swept into a urn. Half of it was distributed to the audience and the other portion poured into the Campus Pond, with the intention that the water will carry the spiritual blessings beyond the campus.

Devi said this was the third time the monks have been on campus since the Asian Arts and Culture Program began. She said she hopes their presence will encourage awareness of other cultural traditions among students, faculty and staff.

Head monk Tulku said that with 21st-century life moving fast and people so dependent on technology, human values are often forgotten.

“What we are leaving as human beings is not having compassion and loving kindness in everyday life,” he said, adding that the mandala could serve to change that.

“We all have the potential to promote the peace and harmony.”

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