Published: Jun 19, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jun 19, 2012 05:34 PM
CHAPEL HILL - During a bike ride last Wednesday, Charlie Wiss and his two daughters made an unplanned stop at the Unity Center of Peace.
They walked in on four silent monks wrapped in blood red and gold robes, seated on the ground and hunched over a large square base. After a moment, the family realized the monks were using sand to create an intricate design.
“The girls were mesmerized by it,” said Wiss, a UNC-Chapel Hill psychology professor. “Even the 4-year-old, and she doesn’t sit still for anything long.”
The Wiss family saw the monks constructing a sacred sand painting called a mandala, which is part of the Drepung Gomang Monastery Sacred Arts Tour that visited the Unity Center off Seawell School Road last week.
The mandala is an ancient art form of Tibetan Buddhism, said Geshe Nawang Tsondu, one of the monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in southern India.
“The mandala is a sacred art that can mean ‘circle of harmony,’ ” Tsondu explained. “It is a palace, and all of the patterns in the mandala have symbolism and meaning.”
The monks at the Unity Center are creating the mandala of the Medicine Buddha, whose image is placed at the center of the detailed sand creation.
“The Medicine Buddha is the Buddha of healing,” he said. “He heals not only the physical sickness but also mental sickness like anger, pride and jealousy.”
The monks make the sand designs with chakpurs, long metal instruments that look like funnels. The colored sand is released from the chakpur by rubbing two chakpurs together.
Though mandalas take about five to seven days to construct, it takes the monks over a year to learn and memorize their patterns, Tsondu said.
They learn the mandalas from Buddhist texts, such as tantric texts and scriptures.
Eve Barkley, the monks’ local sponsor, said the mandala exhibit raises money for the Drepung Gomang monastery and introduces the local community to the traditions of the Tibetan Buddhists monks.
The Drepung Gomang monks fled Tibet when the country was invaded by the Chinese government, which has severely restricted the practice of Buddhism in Tibet.
“I believe in supporting groups that have a culture that is worth preserving,” Barkley said
Barkley said the monastery selects eight monks to go on a 14-month U.S. tour so they can spread their message of peace and compassion.
Last year’s tour raised between $10,000 and $15,000, she said. Barkley said 100 percent of the donations benefit the 2,000 refugee monks that live at the Drepung Gomang Monastery.