Tibetan Buddhist monks are creating a sand mandala at The Blanton this week. This intricate work-of-art is being created in conjunction with the art museum’s current exhibit, Into the Sacred City: Tibetan Buddhist Dieties from the Theos Banard Collection. The five-foot mandala was begun after a consecration ceremony on Wednesday evening.
These monks are from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta. When I visited on Friday afternoon, five monks were busily working on the mandala. The general outline of the mandala was sketched on the table. I’m no expert, of course, but it looked like the monks outlined a small area, filled it with sand, and then added embellishments—similar to how you would color a page in a coloring book. Occasionally they rested an arm on a small pillow, but their movements were slow and steady. They worked quietly, concentrating on their section of the mandala, but I did see them occasionally speak to each other. The audience was respectfully quiet as well.
The monks used metal cones called chak-purs to distribute the sand. By scraping a metal rod along its grated sides, they caused the sand to flow out a tiny hole in the bottom of the chak-pur. One end had a flat side, like a butter knife, that the monks used that side to gently push errant sand into place.
When changing sand colors, the monks turned the cone over to dump out the extra sand into the bowl, scooped up their next color into the chak-pur, and then emptied just a little bit of sand into a discard bowl to remove all traces of the previous color.
A docent explained that the sand mandala is used as a tool for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants. The completed work will be dismantled on Sunday afternoon during another ceremony. Half of the sand will be distributed to the audience and the rest will be deposited in nearby Waller Creek…consecrating Austin and those who live here.