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Westside Watch

Monks Put Healing Art on Display

August 06, 1995

Half a dozen red-robed monks worked all week to make a colored-sand mandala at the Borders bookstore in Santa Monica, breaking only for lunches at a nearby Thai restaurant.

It was a healing exercise, sanctified by prayers and dance by devotees of the Dalai Lama, and fans came from as far as Orange County and San Diego to be present at the creation of the intricate cosmogram--a bit of Tantric P.R. for the cause of China-dominated Tibet.

"It's to heal the environment and the people living in it, so people appreciate it even if they're not into Buddhism," said Alex Goodman, community relations director at the bookstore.

This traditional art form of Tibet's mountain monasteries goes back thousands of years, but the monks have been taking their mystic message to the world since 1988, shortly after Chinese authorities cracked down on independence-minded demonstrators in Lhasa and other cities.

Since then, Chinese settlers have flooded into the remote land, threatening its tranquillity and traditional ways, sympathizers say. The lamas have been based in India since Chinese authorities closed the Drepung Loseling Monastery in 1959.

On the Santa Monica stop of their tour, the artists started by tracing an intricate pattern--a sort of blueprint for a cosmic mansion--with ruler, compass and white ink.

Using colored sand and powdered flowers, herbs and grains, they filled in the forms with a metal funnel, working outward from the center.

Made in the spirit of impermanence and non-attachment, the mandala was meant to be destroyed.

Only one problem--some of the monks' local sponsors want to preserve the mandala as a memento, and the artists seemed a little perplexed.

For one thing, it is a delicate creation, and to let it deteriorate would be to desecrate the holy image, said Geshe Damdul Hamgyal, a spokesman for the group.

For another, the ceremony of sweeping up the sands is meant to remind us of the frailty of all things.

"Traditionally, the blessed sand would be put back into a flowing body of water, where it would circulate among the waters of the earth, blessing them," he said.

"In this way, the energy of the holy work is distributed all over the world."

Saving the Tantric mandala is not unheard of--at least one example has been preserved at the anthropological museum in Mexico City--but it is quite rare.

"We have asked for a demonstration of how it would be done," Hamgyal said.


SPEAKING OF WHICH: We could tell those lamas a thing or two about the impermanence of it all, since this is the final edition of the Westside section.

Later, dudes.

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