Our World: Intricate beauty

Greg Kahn/Staff
Tibetan monks continue work on a sand mandala at Unity Church of Naples on Nov. 29, 2011.

Photo by GREG KAHN // Buy this photo

Greg Kahn/Staff Tibetan monks continue work on a sand mandala at Unity Church of Naples on Nov. 29, 2011.

Greg Kahn/Staff
Tibetan monks continue work on a sand mandala at Unity Church of Naples on Nov. 29, 2011.

Photo by GREG KAHN // Buy this photo

Greg Kahn/Staff Tibetan monks continue work on a sand mandala at Unity Church of Naples on Nov. 29, 2011.

After more than 30 hours of creating a detail-filled, intricate design with colored sand, a group of Tibetan Monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery destroyed their masterpiece. The monks, who have been hunched over a small table eight hours a day since Nov. 28, at Unity Church of Naples’ Fellowship Hall, created a path to enlightenment, known as a mandala. Specifically, a Chenrezig sand mandala.

According to Jangchub Chophel, a monk with Gaden Shartse, in Buddhism, mandalas are a way of creating a sacred space to receive Buddha. The sand design, always finished in the shape of a circle, can range in diameter from 4 feet to more than 9 feet. There are several different types of mandalas. The one designed in Naples symbolized compassion.

Inside Fellowship Hall, a pair of monks hovered over the table, their faces inches from the surface. One, Lobsang Tengyal, wore a mask over his mouth to prevent any disturbance of the sand. Using slender metal funnels called “chakpurs” which have rivets on one side, the monks scraped them together to spread lines of sand, as thin as a couple millimeters, on the table’s surface.

Chophel said monks typically train between three to five years to master the technique using the chakpur. “You need to learn ratios and patterns,” Chophel said. “A lot more beyond just artistic skill.”

A steady stream of visitors entered and left the room, each marveling at the discipline and technique used by the monks. The monks would rarely raise their gaze from the table, only briefly to switch the color of sand they used. No diagram guided them. The monks barely needed anything but an overall boundary to create the complex project.

“They know this one by heart,” Chophel said.

The steady rhythmic rubbing of the chakpur sounded as though a group were playing the metal version of the musical instrument commonly known as a scraper. In the background a traditional Tibetan chant played, creating a meditative atmosphere.

It was the last stop for the traveling group of monks, who had been on the road for more than a year and a half. They had created more than 40 different mandalas, as well as performing other cultural exchanges including sacred dancing, and sharing Buddhist teachings.

As for the mandala, as it was created from the earth, after it was finished and blessed, it went back to the earth. Some of the sand was handed to visitors, and the rest was spread into the Gulf, as a blessing to the water.

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Connect with Greg Kahn at www.naplesnews.com/staff/greg_kahn

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