Monks creating sand mandala at university

Tibetan Buddhist monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery construct a mandala sand painting Monday at Frostburg State University's Lewis J. Ort Library.

FROSTBURG — Tibetan Buddhist monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery are constructing a mandala sand painting at Frostburg State University this week, part of their five-day residency at the university.

Dozens of community members, students and faculty gathered at the school's Lewis J. Ort Library Sunday evening for a traditional ceremony conducted by the monks.

"We're able to bring the world here," Mary Jane Plummer, director of cultural events at the university, said. "Given the state of affairs in our world, it's important for people to learn more about other cultures and that they aren't necessarily the enemy because you don't understand them."

The monks will construct a Mandala of Compassion, a Tibetan legacy dating back more than 20,000 years, at the campus library. 

"We are very honored and happy to do this here," Geshe Loden of the Drepung Loseling Moastery, said. 

The mandala of compassion was chosen by community members and students through online surveys provided by the university.

Before the construction began, monks blessed the site through chanting.

The chants allowed the monks to cultivate their motivation for the mandala, which is to help all beings through the sacred art, Loden said. They also invited all beings to assist in the sacred creation and asked spirits permission to use the space, he said. 

The mandala is set for completion Thursday. A closing ceremony will be held at noon.

The mandala is constructed with the sand of five types of crushed marble that represent the five elements of nature — earth, air, fire, water and spirit. 

The ancient art of the mandala teaches impermanence — a doctrine of Buddhism — and Thursday's closing ceremony will allow the monks time to dismantle the mandala and give half the sand to onlookers while dispersing the rest into a nearby water source.

"Through the closing ceremony, we do the invocation of the compassion Buddha, Avalokitesvara, and seek his blessings for world peace and harmony," Loden said. "From our prayers we believe that each single grain carries healing property."

FSU President Ronald Nowaczyk said mindfulness and the message from Tibet has a place in modern education.

"It's (mindfulness) part of the development process," Nowaczyk said.

"Another part of it is, for our students, this is a cultural event that very few people ever get to see."

Multiple lectures and workshops that coincide with the monks' visit will be available to the public for free this week. Visit the university website, www.frostburg.edu, for additional information.

Follow staff writer Heather Wolford on Twitter @heatherbwolford.

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