Sacred Sand Art: Lighthouse ArtCenter Hosts the Tibetan Monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery

From February 9-15, the sleepy town of Tequesta is garnering some international attention when the Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery visit Lighthouse ArtCenter. Part of the “Sacred Art Tour,” a Dalai Lama-sanctioned initiative designed to share and preserve Tibetan culture, the tour hopes to bring “a future that is without violence; a future of worldwide compassion; a future full of the wisdom of open hearts; and a future that places the highest appreciation on the value of a healthy universe and our ever-connectedness.”

Tibetan Buddhist Monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery creating a sand mandala

Drepung Gomang Monastery monks creating a sand mandala.

   As part of their visit, the eight lamas from the Dreoung Gomang Monastery, known as the second Nalanda University in Tibet, and followers of the Gelug (“Yellow Hat”) school of Tibetan Buddhism, will created an intricate mandala in the museum’s main gallery using sand. This sacred act is more than just art, but the embodiment of compassion.

Monks at the Drepung Gomang Monastery - Tibetan Buddhist Monks creating a sand mandala

Monks gather in the great assembly hall at Drepung Monastery, Tibet.

Photo by Dennis Jarvis

   Each mandala is rife with meaning and symbology. An aid to meditation by tantric Buddhists, the mandala is a support, something repetitively done to the point of utter saturation, where the full mandala can be visualized and contemplated internally—each grain of sand meticulously placed, time and time again, aids in a deeper understanding of the mind, and of the impurity found in the outer world of samsara (the repeating cycle of birth, life and death). Translating to “center and its surroundings,” mandalas are a physical representation of our interdependence with the world around us. Every detail is deliberate, with the “blueprints” considered sacred, permeated with layers of deep meaning.

   Though found in many forms and patterns, every mandala contains a circle, a central point and some form of symmetry, while different levels represent different meanings. The outer level represents the world in its divine form, a place of Nirvana and peace. The inner level is a map of sorts, showing the transition of the human mind in its transformation to enlightenment.

   Once the intricate pattern of sand is complete, it is then brushed together into a pile and spilled into a body of running water as a final display of impermanence. When taken as a whole, the mandala offering is a symbolic offering of the entire universe.

An example of a Chenrezig sand mandala

An example of a Chenrezig sand mandala.

   The sand mandala created at Lighthouse will represent Chenrezig, the embodiment of the compassion of all buddhas combined. Cynthia Trone, Lighthouse’s Director of Education, chose the theme of compassion to help those who come to view this intricate art and prayer to generate compassion for all beings. “Compassion is what we invite into our lives every day, along with gratitude, to live a full and happy life. We need compassion not only for each other and our own selves, but also for our very fragile natural environment here in South Florida.”

   When the mandala is complete, the lamas will give the sand over to the ailing Indian River Lagoon at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse during the dissolution ceremony, offering a blessing to the environment and the community. Beginning at 2 p.m. on Sunday, February 15, the formal ceremony will include a procession, chanting and prayer, and the careful distribution of the sand into the waterway. The community is welcome to attend by land and sea, joining in this sacred act and share in the compassion.

Detail of a Sand Mandala - Lighthouse ArtCenter - Chenrezig - mandala of compassion of all Buddhas combined

An opening ceremony is planned for Monday, February 9 from 7-9 p.m., where the monks will offer demonstrations of their way of life through art, ritual, dance and prayer. Following a blessing of the museum, the monks will begin marking the board for the creation of the sand mandala. Admission is $5.

   The public is welcome to come watch as the monks meticulously create this “sandpainting,” one grain of sand at a time, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. beginning Tuesday, February 10. Each day will begin (10 a.m.) and end (3:30 p.m.) with puja (meditation and prayer). General admission is $5.

There will also be a series of events will lead up to, and happen during the mandala-making process:

  • On February 7, Rose Shaw will lead two workshops, Flowers of Life Mandalas and Mandalas of Light respectively, introducing the art of mandalas and the spiritual and ritualistic connection to the universe.  Admission to each is $50.
  • On February 10, join the monks of the Drepung Gomang Monastery for a special Tibetan culinary lesson, as they make traditional momo (duplings) and naan (flatbread), followed by dinner. Admission is $50.
  • On February 14, bring the kids for a chance to create their own mandalas. Children (along with an adult) will work alongside the monks as they create their own mandalas. $25 per person, children under 12 are free.
  • For more info and to register for a workshop, click here.

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