Tibetan Buddhist Monks to Construct Mandala Sand Painting and Perform Special Ceremonies at Bethany College

BETHANY, W.Va. — Tibetan Buddhist monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery will construct a Mandala Sand Painting February 8-11 at Bethany College. Millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place in this ancient spiritual art form in order to purify and heal the environment and its inhabitants. The exhibit and Opening and Closing Ceremonies featuring chants, music and dance will be open to the public.

The monks’ visit is part of The Mystical Arts of Tibet, a world tour co-produced by Richard Gere Productions and Drepung Loseling. The tour, endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and operated under the guidance of Drepung Loseling Monastery (re-established in exile in south India), was designed to make a contribution to world peace and healing through sacred art; to generate a greater awareness of the endangered Tibetan civilization; and to raise support for the Tibetan refugee community in India.

The Opening Ceremony will be held on February 8 at 7 p.m. The Closing Ceremony will be held on February 11 at 4 p.m. Both events will take place in Bethany’s historic Commencement Hall. The monks will work from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on February 9-10 and from 10 a.m. through the Closing Ceremony on February 11.

Dr. James Farwell, Bethany College Thomas W. Phillips Chair of Religious Studies, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Department of Humanities, will give an address on February 3 in preparation for the event. Farwell’s remarks are titled “Of Monks, Mandalas, and Mystery: Tibetan Buddhism in North America” and will be given in Phillips Lounge at 4 p.m.

From all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and exquisite. Millions of grains of sand are arranged on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks to form the image of a mandala. To date, the monks have created mandala sand paintings in more than 100 museums, art centers, and colleges and universities in the United States and Europe.

Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning sacred cosmogram. These cosmograms can be created in various media, such as watercolor on canvas and wood carvings. However, the most spectacular and enduringly popular are those made from colored sand.

In general all mandalas have outer, inner and secret meanings. On the outer level they represent the world in its divine form; on the inner level they represent a map by which the ordinary human mind is transformed into enlightened mind; and on the secret level they depict the primordially perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind. The creation of a sand painting is said to effect purification and healing on these three levels.

The mandala sand painting will begin with the Opening Ceremony on February 8, during which the lamas consecrate the site and call forth the forces of goodness. This is done by means of chanting, music and mantra recitation — a visually and acoustically striking event.

After the Opening Ceremony, the monks will begin drawing the line design for the mandala they will create at Bethany, the Avalokiteshvara (“The Buddha of Compassion”), on a wooden platform. During the remainder of the exhibit they lay the colored sands. Each monk holds a traditional metal funnel called a chakpur while running a metal rod on its grated surface. The vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid onto the platform.

Traditionally most sand mandalas are destroyed shortly after their completion. This is done as a metaphor for the impermanence of life. The sands are swept up and placed in an urn. To fulfill the function of healing, half will be distributed to the audience at the Closing Ceremony on February 11, while the remainder will be carried to Buffalo Creek, where it will be deposited. The waters carry the healing blessing to the ocean, and from there it spreads throughout the world for planetary healing. A reception will follow the Closing Ceremony.

For more information, please contact Laurie Conway, Coordinator of Student Activities at Bethany College, at 304.829.7905 or lconway@bethanywv.edu.

Bethany College is a small college of national distinction located on a picturesque and historic 1,300-acre campus in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Founded in 1840, Bethany is the state’s oldest private college.