Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 16, 2014

Painting with sand

TRAVERSE CITY -- The Dennos Museum Center of Northwestern Michigan College is ringing with noise this week as Tibetan Buddhist monks construct a Mandala sand painting in the center of the museum.

About 15 monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India are working in shifts to create the Mandala at the museum this week. They crouch silently over their work, layering sand in brilliant colors along a design etched out on a flat platform.

Nyima Tsering, a monk who is helping to create the sand painting, said the Mandala represents conflict and resolution.

"The Tibetans believe the creation of the Mandala brings healing and harmony and wisdom to remove obstacles and hindrances," Tsering said.

The monks tend not to speak while they work, but the room is filled with sound from the chakpur, a traditional metal funnel each monk uses to pour the colorful sand onto its proper place. The monks run a metal rod up and down the funnel's grated surface, gently coaxing the sand to flow with the vibrations.

Jason Dake, the museum's curator of education, designed a community Mandala with the Dennos namesake so museum visitors can try their hand at the art form using the chakpur and metal rod.

"We wanted the community to be able to experience it," he said.

Joanie Jackson, a docent volunteer at the museum, helps visitors of all ages figure out the technique. What strikes her most about the Mandala is its creative spirituality.

"I've noticed that as people are working around the table they're really not talking," Jackson said. "They're concentrating, and they're really in the here and now."

Tsering said the monks tour the United States for three reasons: to contribute to world peace and healing, to generate a greater awareness of the endangered Tibetan civilization, and to raise support for the Tibetan refugee community in India. It is important to them to spread love and promote understanding, he said.

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