- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2001

Tibetan Buddhist monks are hoping to provide healing and protection for the world. Twenty of the followers of the religious order from Drepung Loseling Monastery Inc. in Atlanta plan to create a "mandala," or sacred sand painting, at the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian and Near Eastern Art in Southwest. The ritual, which is open to the public free of charge, begins at noon on Jan. 11 and culminates at 3 p.m. on Jan. 27.
Yeshe Phelgey, administrative director of the Drepung Loseling Monastery, says this endeavor comes as a result of the Dalai Lama's call for Tibetan Buddhists to show solidarity with the world community in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Dalai Lama is the exiled religious leader of Tibet.
"Mandala means 'world in harmony, '" says Mr. Phelgey, a former monk. "We believe the chanting in the ceremonies has power to bring healing. In the visible, we don't get results right away, but we believe they will come."
The monks already completed one sand painting at the Heye Center in New York City, which began Dec. 11 and ended Dec. 23. While doing so, they invoked the name of "Vajrabhairava," a manifestation of an entity that is believed to specialize in protection and the conquering of death. The type of mandala the monks build depends on the entity they beseech.
At the suggestion of the Dalai Lama, the mandala the monks will build in Washington is to be called "Akshobya," which represents a force that removes negative energies, Mr. Phelgey says. The group creates about 100 mandalas per year.
"We are grateful to have the blessing of his holiness, the Dalai Lama," Mr. Phelgey says. "This mandala is only made on the most rare occasions. Our monastery has never made it in America."
The Drepung Loseling Monastery was established near Lhasa, Tibet, in 1416. In 1998, the monastery and Emory University in Atlanta opened the Loseling Institute and formed an academic affiliation to promote cross-cultural understanding.
When creating a mandala, which is Sanskrit for "circle" or "round," the monks begin with an opening ceremony of chants and music, Mr. Phelgey says. After the opening, they draw lines for the design of the painting and construct the work with sand from metal funnels called "chak-pur." The 7-by-7-foot mandala will be about 33 inches high and featured on a black platform.
"People usually like to watch and listen to chanting," Mr. Phelgey says. "We have prayer ceremonies which people can join."
They complete the mandala with a consecration ritual, Mr. Phelgey says. Then they dismantle the mandala and disperse the sand into a body of water, where, he says, it distributes healing energies throughout the world.
Most likely, the monks will scatter the sand from the Sackler's mandala in the Potomac River.
Barbara Kram, head of public affairs and marketing at the Sackler, says she is preparing for many people to watch the event. In 1998, the gallery played host to the Drepung Loseling Monastery during a special exhibit on Buddhism.
"It was extremely popular," she says. "We had 20,000 people in two weeks. We are prepared for large crowds. We expect it will be meaningful and popular. We're sure the monks will be willing to speak to the audience as they build and answer questions."
Ms. Kram says the monks contacted the gallery to ask for permission to create at the location. Every day at 10:30 a.m., they plan to begin with prayer and chanting. As they finish their work, they will once again engage in the rituals, which will finish by 4:30 p.m. The Sackler's Web site, www.asia.si.edu, will present online the entire program in progress.
"I think that this will offer an opportunity for spiritual reflection across religions," she says. "We hope it brings people to see how other religions offer their prayers. We know there are many Buddhists in this community who will enjoy it. I suppose we will have religious Buddhists, secular people who are looking for healing and art lovers at the event. It's a great opportunity to open our doors to people from all walks of life."
Gregory Kruglak, chairman of the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture in Arlington, says Tibetan monks have about 2,500 years of experience in bringing healing and balance through their Buddhist techniques. His organization, whose Web site is www.tibetanculture.org, co-sponsors this event with the gallery.
The conservancy also will sponsor a performance at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 25 at the Lincoln Theatre in Northwest called "Sacred Music, Sacred Dance for World Healing." The monks aim to impress the audience with their multiphonic singing, which means they sing more than one note at a time.
"We're trying to promote the preservation of Tibetan art and culture," Mr. Kruglak says.
"Any event where Tibetan traditions can be of benefit to the world is something we want to encourage. They want to help people affected by the tragedies."


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