Monday, January 28, 2013

Tibetan monks arrive to bless Texas State

By Scot Wortner

Tibetan monks are visiting Texas State University and creating a mandala which will bless the area and later be dismantled for part of the school’s “Common Experience” program.

Drepung Loseling Lamas                                                                                                              Photo by Scot Wortner
The lamas from the Drepung Loseling Monastery kicked off their weeklong visit today at the LBJ Student Center by starting the creation of a traditional Buddhist sand mandala. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle” and the work of art is used to bless certain regions with compassion, understanding and wisdom.

Lobsang Dhondup, one of the visiting monks, began the ceremonies with a short speech explaining the nature of Buddhism and the purpose of the mandala.

“In terms of the Buddha, it does not necessarily mean someone out there,” Dhondup said. “The Buddha means enlightenment, totally enlightened.”

He said there are many things inside people, and once they have the wisdom to discover them, the Buddha nature may be reached.

To begin the practice, the monks start an approximately 25-minute chant interlaced with singing and music. The four-step process begins with them asking for permission from the spirits to bless the area they are in. They also ask them to examine the place to be sure it is “good,” remove any obstacles that may be in the way and finally bless the environment.

Once the prayer was finished, the lamas began to sketch the mandala on a wooden table with a chalkboard-like surface. The deeply intricate design is created by using colored pencil, chalk, drawing compasses, rulers and string. The outline for the mandala took about an hour to complete.

After completing the base for the mandala, the monks filled in different areas of the design starting from the middle with colored sand. They did this by filling metal funnels known as “chak-purs” with sand and grating them with rods so the vibration pours out the sand.

Chak-purs and colored sand                                                                                                         Photo by Scot Wortner

On Friday, once the work is completed, they will take it apart, essentially destroying the piece and representing what they call the “impermanence of life.” From there, they will distribute half the sand to the audience and then carry the rest to Sewell Park and bless the San Marcos River. The hope is that the blessings are carried from the body of water to the oceans where they may spread throughout the world.

Errin Scroggins, a San Marcos resident, had been watching the events for a few hours on his day off. He said “there’s a beautiful metaphor” in the dismantling of the mandala.

“They’re creating this. They’re in the moment of creating it, and then they destroy it and move on,” Scroggins said. “It’s not an attachment to what you’ve made or are going to make. It’s just a constant state of becoming and evolving.”

Taylor Jones, philosophy graduate student, switched her plans Monday so she could see the opening ceremony. Jones had only planned on staying an hour, but she was so fascinated by the process she stayed for several.

 “I really appreciate and am humbled by the whole practice of doing something that’s so profound and exacted and precise,” she said. “Then to willingly enter into that endeavor knowing you’re going to destroy it is an incredible meditation to walk through life with–the practice of non-attachment.”

In addition to the mandala creation, the Drepung Loseling singers will perform “Sacred Music Sacred Dance” Thursday at 7 p.m. in Evans Auditorium. The group is also selling books by and about the Dalia Lama, CDs, jewelry, scrolls and other related items near the mandala in LBJ. All of the monks visiting exhibitions are free to the public and are part of "The Mystical Arts of Tibet" tour.

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