Buddhist monks visit East Falls in pursuit of compassion

A small group of Buddhist Monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in Southern India recently spent part of their year-long tour of the United States at Material Culture in East Falls, painstakingly creating and then dismantling an intricate sand painting called a Mandala.

The monks are touring the U.S. with three objectives: to spread a message of peace and compassion, to share and maintain knowledge about the Tibetan culture, and to raise funds to help support Monks currently living and studying at their Monastery.

Driven out of Tibet by the Chinese government, the few survivors of the Tibetan Drepung Gomang Monastery have been joined in Southern India by monks and Buddhist students from around the world to continue the traditions of study, meditation and monastic discipline.

A Mandela is an ancient art form of Tibetan Buddhism. Brilliantly colored sand or particles of stone are placed grain by grain using narrow metal funnels called “chakpur.”

The Mandela created at Material Culture in June took about 100 hours. Each day, monks worked on the painting, beginning and ending with chanting and prayer.

On Sunday, in a ritual symbolizing the impermanence of all things, the painting was brushed into a small pile of sand. The sand was given in small bags to those who had come to observe the ceremony, and the remainder was taken and poured into the Wissahickon Creek so its healing energy can spread into the world.

Material Culture has been a long time supporter of the Monastery. For the June event, a serene space was set up for the creation of the Mandala on oriental rugs, surrounded by narrow wooden benches, Indian floor pillows, and stone Buddha statues.

Watching the monks work on the Mandela and listening to their chants transported knowledgeable supporters and casual observers alike to another space and time.

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