Tibetan monks find peace, transience in grains of sand

dkane@newsobserver.comNovember 2, 2013 

— About 15 years ago, Barbara Reeves of Cary visited the N.C. Museum of Art where Tibetan monks meticulously built what is commonly known as a sand mandala – an elaborate artwork designed from crushed marble that had been dyed many colors.

The way they used their ridged metal chakpurs – long, narrow funnels – to lay down the marble grains so impressed her that she began studying Buddhism, and today she is a member of the Kadampa Center of Raleigh, one of about a dozen Buddhist centers in the Triangle.

“I just felt very at ease and a lot of comfort being there,” Reeves said. “It was sort of like a door that opened, and I wanted to know more.”

Saturday afternoon, she watched as several monks from a South India monastery were in their second day of creating a Medicine Buddha mandala of healing and peace. They will finish the mandala at 2 p.m. Sunday and then perform a puja, a prayer ritual of faith and devotion, before taking it apart.

Some of the blessed sand will go to practitioners; the rest will be dispersed in a body of water.

Taken as a whole, the mandala serves to teach the impermanence of life.

“The spiritual lesson is to not be too attached,” said Donna Seese, the center’s office manager.

A steady stream of visitors stopped by the center Saturday to watch the monks build the mandala. Each used two chakpurs. One holds the sand, the other is rubbed along the sand-holding chakpur’s ridges to release the sand. The faster the rubbing, the more sand that’s released.

At an adjacent card table, children worked on their own mandalas, using the chakpurs to fill in a drawing of a lotus flower. Ainara Rodriguez, 10, of Carrboro filled in the colors expertly.

She takes part in meditation and other calming exercises that her mom, Edna, also a Buddhism practitioner, teaches to children.

Ainara said making the mandalas helps clear her mind.

“You can go for a long time and you are only looking at this, and not at other things,” she said. “You are concentrating on this.”

It is not effortless. Palden Sangpo is one of two monks who teach at the Kadampa Center and is known as a “geshe.” He said he and the other monks can be so drawn into the building of a mandala that they forget to eat and lose track of time.

“You go home, and you are soaked (with sweat) everywhere,” he said.

The monks built the mandala as part of a national tour to raise money for the boarding school they run at the monastery. The money will go toward instruction, books and meals for the children attending the Sera Je Secondary School.

The monks will create a second mandala Nov. 7-10 at the Unity Church of the Triangle in downtown Raleigh.

Kane: 919-829-4861; Twitter: @dankanenando

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