Archive for Friday, October 2, 1998


October 2, 1998


A group of Tibetan monks is sharing its spiritual art with Lawrence residents.

Four Tibetan monks, wrapped in traditional ruby-red dress, leaned over their work-in-progress Thursday evening at the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, scratching sand from a metal funnel into a design to please the Buddha of Compassion.

They had been at their task since 9 a.m. and would continue through 9 p.m., stopping only for tea breaks and meals.

The monks were creating a Wheel of Time sand mandala, a symbolic diagram of the universe that measured three feet in diameter.

``It's made of granite marble collected from the river (in the Himalaya Mountains in India) and then ground by hand and dyed,'' said Thupten Donyo, a member of the Gaden Jangtse monastery and translator for the eight monks who are constructing the mandala. ``In past years, we used turquoise, pearls and other jewels.''

To create the mandala, the monks draw the geometric pattern on a base using a straight-edge ruler, compass and white ink pen. Colored sand, created by mixing red, blue, green, white and black grains, is painstakingly applied through the end of a metal funnel, known as a chang-bu.

Once completed, the mandala is destroyed and the sand dumped into a nearby water source.

The monks will be working on the Wheel of Time through Saturday. At noon Sunday, the mandala will be dismantled and the sand dumped into Potter Lake near Memorial Stadium.

``It takes a couple of years to learn,'' Donyo said. ``We must memorize the text and visualize the symbols, the posture and the gestures of Buddha. Then we learn the diagram, its size, color, the directions. Then we learn the physical drawing of it.''

All aspects of the mandala are symbolic, he said. For example, the sand is applied from the inside out to symbolize how at birth a child is a drop of sperm and ovum, and then steadily grows until the entire universe is experienced through the senses. And when the mandala is destroyed, the sand is swept from the outside to the center to represent how in old age and at the time of death everything returns to its primordial source at the center of the heart.

Donyo said the monks are not trying to create a new design, but instead they direct all their energy and discipline into the perfection of the mind -- in this case, making the mandala as true to the text as possible to please the deity and their teacher.

There are thousands of Tibetan Buddhist mandalas, each with different forms that are described in detailed texts written since the Buddha's passing in 600 B.C.

The Gaden Jangtse monastery is home to 1,400 monks ranging in age from 7 to 80. Their daily routine begins at 5 a.m. with two to three hours of prayer, followed by the memorization of texts and hours of philosophical debate. They tend their fields and do all other tasks to make the monastery self-sufficient. Their day ends around midnight or 1 a.m.

Donyo said the monks will be touring the United States for seven months and then Canada for three months. They are in Lawrence as part of the tour.

-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is

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