Tibetan Buddhist monks will create a sand-painted mandala and perform sacred music and dances this week at Cal Poly. San Luis Obispo is hosting the 10 monks, members of the Drepung Loseling monastery, as they travel the world with The Mystic Arts of Tibet 15-month tour.
A mandala consists of millions of grains of colored sand placed in geometric shapes and ancient spiritual symbols; in Tibetan this art is called dul-tson-kyil-khor, which literally means “mandala of colored powders.” The monks will perform an opening ceremony for the sand mandala Tuesday at noon next to the information desk in the University Union (UU). They will work on the mandala, set on a 6-foot table, until Friday. They will first outline the mandala and then lay the sand by running a thin metal rod over traditional hand-held, metal funnels called chak-pur, which are skinny tubes about a foot long.
This is the third time Cal Poly Arts director Steven Lerian has seen the monks create a mandala. It’s an amazing experience he thinks the community will appreciate, he said.
“Watching them make the sand Mandala in the UU is an absolutely fascinating process,” Lerian said. He added that seeing the monks’ progress over the week is interesting.
Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Georgia, hosted the monks last week. Chelsea Guenther, a religion and social justice senior, said seeing the mandala created was a rewarding and fascinating experience.
“The mandala was one of the most beautiful and interesting things I’ve ever seen. It’s just such an intricate art, so very detailed,” she said. “One of the monks told me it takes them five years to learn how to do the mandala because they memorize all of the designs,” she said.
Guenther said the weeklong visit was a good way to connect people with Buddhism; the mandala brought people who don’t usually attend similar events, she said.
“I’ve had little no experience with Buddhism so it was really interesting to see that part of their culture,” she said.
The monks started touring in 1988 as a way to share and spread awareness of their endangered culture, contribute to world peace and healing and to raise support for the Tibetan refugee community in India. There are now more than 2,500 monks living in the reestablished monastery in South India, which was built by 250 surviving monks after the 1959 Chinese invasion demolished their original monastery, which housed 10 to 15 thousand monks. In 1991, the monks established a nonprofit organization in Atlanta, Georgia, called Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc., according to the tour Web site.
In addition to the monks’ mandala, visitors will be able to create a smaller 2 to 3 foot mandala on an adjacent table. The design for the community mandala was created by Cal Poly art and design senior Mai-Chi Vu, who works for the University Art Gallery and designs ads for the Mustang Daily. Her design is made up of three flowers all native to San Luis Obispo.
“They wanted something more meaningful to Cal Poly but not like the Mustang or the logo. So I used things that can all be found in Poly Canyon,” she said.
On Friday, the monks will perform a closing ceremony. Lerian said it is even more interesting than the opening of the program. The monks will distribute half of the sand from the mandala in small vials to the audience; the rest will be deposited into an urn. Then they will lead a procession to the nearest body of water, which in this case is Stenner Creek in Santa Rosa Park, and place the sand into the water, which carries the sand’s healing powers out into the world to re-consecrate the earth and its inhabitants. This destruction of the mandala is done as a metaphor of the impermanence of life, according to The Mystic Arts of Tibet Web site. Both of the ceremonies are free and the mandalas can be viewed anytime the UU is open.
Missi Bullock, Associated Students Inc. (ASI) program coordinator, said she expects the creation of the mandalas will be very well attended by students and visitors.
“It seems like it is going to be much more far-reaching than just the students,” she said.
Bullock said this event is representative of ASI’s mission to offer varied events to students.
“It’s about providing unique entertainment, innovating thinking,” she said. “That’s what we’re about.”
In addition to the sand mandala, the monks will also be performing their Sacred Music Sacred Dance program. The two-hour show is comprised of 11 selections, which have titles like “Dance of the Black Hat Masters” and “Dance of the Celestial Travelers.” The monks of the Drepung Loseling monastery are famous for their multiphonic singing, which Lerian said transports viewers to a different place.
This event will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5, at the Christopher Cohan Center of the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center. Tickets range from $20 to $31 for students and from $20 to $38 for adults. More than half of the nearly 800 seats in the theatre were sold.