On a recent Friday afternoon, two Tibetan Buddhist monks hunched over a square table in the prayer hall of the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Brookhaven.
Gentle music played in the background. The carved alter was softly lit, the light reflecting off the trio of golden gods in the center. People meditated on floor cushions.
The red-robed monks worked in silence, carefully filling in the lines of a mandala with colored sand.
Mandalas are a sacred form of artwork. They usually are circular. The one at Drepung Loseling is being prepared using the ancient method of sand painting in celebration of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Emory University in October. The mandala the monks are assembling is called the Avalokiteshvara Mandala and represents the Buddha of compassion, said Lobsang Dawa, one of the monks.
“We believe this really helps prepare the environment,” said Tsepak Rigzin, assistant program director at the monastery on Dresden Drive. “There is a whole lot of sentiment involved.”
Until Oct. 12, the public is invited to view the mandala construction on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, from 2 to 7 p.m. On Wednesdays and Fridays, from 7 to 7:30 p.m., people can join the monks for chanting and mediation.
There will be a closing ceremony on Oct. 12 at 6:30 p.m.
“We needed to come and experience this,” said Harry O’Brien, a Kennesaw resident who traveled Sept. 17 to see the sand painting exhibit he described as “unbelievable.”
“Something has washed over me,” O’Brien said as he exited the prayer hall. “It’s peace.”
About 20 exiled Tibetan monks, who traveled from South India to seek money for education and shelter, are creating the sand painting. The monks came to Atlanta about seven months ago, according to Dawa.
“It’s not just the art but the philosophy behind it,” Dawa said with the help of a translator.
The process began with an opening ceremony Aug. 29. It takes about two weeks for four monks, working five hours a day, to finish the image, Dawa said.
To create the sand paintings, the monks fill metal funnels called chakpur with different colored sands. Each color has a meaning. White represents peace and love, Dawa said. Red symbolizes energy, and blue, healing.
The monks hold the chakpur in one hand and run a metal rod along the serrated surface of the chakpur. The vibration causes the sand to flow like liquid to fill in lines drawn with chalk onto the table. The monks begin in the center of the mandala and work outwards.
“Not only is it beautiful but it amazes me how such little things can make such a tremendous difference,” said Norcross resident Ken Scroggs, a member of the monastery for the past five years. “Here are the monks with a tiny grain of sand, but when it all comes together, it makes a big and beautiful difference in the art form.
“Some things take a lot of time and a lot of patience. This tends to represent that. The outcome is beautiful.”
During the Oct. 12 closing ceremony, the monks will destroy the mandala by sweeping up the colored sands.
Then the sand will be poured into a river “as a gift to Mother Earth,” Rigzin said.
The process symbolizes the impermanence of life, Rigzin said, and “how precious living is every moment.”