Tibetan monks create sacred art in Milledgeville

MILLEDGEVILLE — Christina Thomas watched from behind a roped-off wooden table Wednesday as four monks stroked a metal bar across cone-shaped tubes filled with sand, which precisely fell onto a hand-drawn design.

“I am amazed by the amount of patience that it takes for them,” said Thomas, a sophomore at Georgia College who watched the artwork in progress at Allen’s Market. “The amount of detail that is going into the work is practically surreal. I don’t think that I would have that much patience ever in my life.”

Since Monday, 10 monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery’s North American seat in Atlanta have been working in shifts to make the sacred mandala of Avalokiteshvara, a richly designed and detailed sand painting. Avalokiteshvara is the bodhisattva, or enlightened being, of compassion. Monks re-create the mandala’s design from memory.

The monks are in Milledgeville for a five-day residency sponsored by Town & Gown Arts, a partnership between Milledgeville Allied Arts and Georgia College’s Arts Unlimited Committee.

For many, the mandala is the highlight of “The Mystical Arts of Tibet” tour. After it’s completed Friday, half of the colorful sand painting will be swept into an urn and shared with the audience. The other half will be poured into the Oconee River.

“That represents impermanence,” said Geshe Thubten Loden, spokesman for the monks visiting Milledgeville. “When we have an understanding of that impermanence, then in our day-to-day life, (if) we lose our possessions or our partner ... it will not make us that much more stressful (because) we know that it’s a part of life (and to) let it be like that.”

The mandala is also destroyed to bring about global healing, Loden said. The monks believe every single grain of sand contains healing energy, and by pouring it into the water, “eventually ... it will (come back as) rain,” Loden said.

“We believe making the mandala will bring peace and harmony to the environment and to each of its inhabitants here in Milledgeville,” he said.

The chak-phur, which are the cone-shaped tools used to pour the sand, are rubbed with a metal bar and “with that vibration, it makes the flow of sand,” Loden said.

To become a geshe, Loden studied for 17 years. He said going on the tour meant giving up family life for three goals: contributing financially to his monastery, sharing Tibetan culture, and bringing peace and harmony to the planet.

Thomas, a psychology and criminal justice major, said she studied Tibetan monks in her world religion class but came to a new realization while watching them create the mandala.

“In the western world, we go to church on Sunday and we go to church on Wednesday, but we go about our daily lives. Religion is (a monk’s) life,” Thomas said. “I don’t think we often have that concept of religion, and that’s something I’m pulling away from this whole experience.”

To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4382 and follow her on Twitter @Lauraecor.