A dozen Tibetan monks visiting Baton Rouge will spend parts of five days next week creating an intricate artwork made of colored sand, only to destroy it.
Monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery who are traveling with the Dalai Lama during his trip to New Orleans will separate from the Tibetan Buddhist leader to spend five days at the Tam Bao Meditation Center in Baton Rouge.
Over 30 hours of work, said Thich Dao Quang, the abbot of the center, the monks will lay out a pattern based inside a circle and then “paint” a mandala using metal funnels to pour the different colors of sand.
Sweeping up the artwork upon its completion teaches a central lesson of Buddhism, Quang said: “Life is beautiful, but also impermanent.”
The Dalai Lama’s first visit to New Orleans, which ends today, brought the Buddhist leader to the city for a series of events and public talks at Tulane University and the University of New Orleans. Seeing a unique opportunity, Quang invited some of the Drepung Loseling monks who travel with the Dalai Lama to stay in Baton Rouge.
“It is probably a first ever event for the city of Baton Rouge,” said Bob Williamson, who attends the Tam Bao Meditation Center, 975 Monterrey Blvd.
Baton Rouge’s Tam Bao Temple often goes by the name Tam Bao Meditation Center because the Buddhists there welcome all people who want to meditate and learn, Williamson said.
The center uses both names on its website.
Each week the center holds assemblies in both Vietnamese and English and welcomes people of all religions and spiritual views, Williamson said. Quang leads sitting and walking meditation at the Sangha, or community.
“We emphasize practice, not only belief,” Quang said.
During their week at Tam Bao, the monks will meditate and lead nightly dharma talks, or Buddhist teachings, for the public. But the centerpiece of their stay will be the mandala preparation, Williamson said.
The Mandala opening ceremony, beginning at noon Monday, will feature dancing and chanting with Tibetan music, Williamson said. Over four days they will first lay out the mandala pattern using strings, then arrange the grains of colored sand using ancient tools — metal funnels and rods.
After five days of work, they will sweep up the mandala. Traditionally the monks either carry the grains of sand to a river or stream to spread the artwork across the world, or they hand out containers of it to guests.
“This is a great opportunity for people who want to understand Tibbetan Buddhist traditions,” he said.