Buddhist monks to create sand painting at URI, Sept. 18-22

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Tibetan monks create a mandala sand painting. Photo courtesy of the monks.

Kingston, R.I., Sept. 7, 2017—Imagine creating a painting from millions of grains of colored sand.

Tibetan Buddhist monks will do just that at the University of Rhode Island from Sept. 18-22, creating a mandala sand painting to teach students, professors, staff and the public about the impermanence of life.

The five-day event is sponsored by URI’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies and is part of The Mystical Arts of Tibet, a world tour co-produced by Richard Gere Productions and Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta and India. The tour aims to promote world peace and generate awareness about the plight of the Tibetan people.

At URI, the monks will begin their project with chanting and meditation at noon on Monday, Sept. 18 in the main lounge at the Memorial Union. The monks will then start the process by drawing on a wooden platform the outline of a mandala, a spiritual symbol in Buddhism that represents the universe. The mandala is an authentic Tibetan art form that dates back 2500 years.

Tibetan monks create a mandala sand painting. Photo courtesy of the monks.

Mandalas have inner and secret meanings. The outer level represents the divine; the inner level illustrates a map that can lead to enlightenment; and the secret level is a perfect balance of the body and mind.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, Sept. 19-21, the monks will apply the sand using a chakpur, a small tube that holds the sand. The monks will run a metal rod over the tube’s grated surface to create a vibration that allows the sand to flow through a hole onto the platform.

The project will continue from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, Sept. 22, and a closing ceremony will follow at noon. The sand painting will be swept away after it’s finished and placed in an urn, again to show the transitory nature of life.

The monks will put half the sand in vials that will be distributed to the public, and the remainder will be carried to a pond near URI’s Ryan Center, where the grains will be tossed into the water.

So far, the monks have created mandala sand paintings in more than 100 museums, art centers and colleges and universities in the United States and Europe. The monks were even featured on the popular Netflix series, House of Cards, where, in season 3, episode 7, they created a mandala sand painting at the White House.

“The meditative nature of this ancient mandala sand painting practice is so meticulous, precise and artistically extravagant that it will fascinate and inspire anyone who observes to seek and find a deeper sense of inner peace and compassion for everyone on our campus,” says Paul Bueno de Mesquita, director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies. “All are welcome to attend this extraordinary event.”

The event coincides with URI’s annual celebration of the United Nations designated International Day of Peace, Thursday, Sept. 21. For more information, please contact the center at 401-874-2875 or visit its website: web.uri.edu/nonviolence/.