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Tibetan monks bring unspoken messages of unity and peace to Colorado Springs

September 20, 2017 Updated: September 21, 2017 at 9:54 pm
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photo - Tibetan Monks are spending the week at the Unity Church in the Rockies as a part of the Sacred Art Tour. They are creating a sand mandala by applying millions of grains of colored sand by hand. On Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, they were preparing a community dinner of momos or dumplings. In keeping with the Buddhist teachings of impermanence, the Mandala will be swept up in a ceremony of dissolution on Saturday, returning the sand to the wind. The public is invited to watch the creation of the mandala Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette
Tibetan Monks are spending the week at the Unity Church in the Rockies as a part of the Sacred Art Tour. They are creating a sand mandala by applying millions of grains of colored sand by hand. On Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, they were preparing a community dinner of momos or dumplings. In keeping with the Buddhist teachings of impermanence, the Mandala will be swept up in a ceremony of dissolution on Saturday, returning the sand to the wind. The public is invited to watch the creation of the mandala Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette 

The simple tools are hard at work in their hands, but the complex design and messages are etched in their hearts.

Sitting on worn cushions, eight Tibetan monks rub metal rods against funnel-shaped metal tubes called chakpurs to gently release millions of grains of colored sand and form an intricate pattern.

The students of the Dalai Lama are creating a mandala. The Tibetan translation: God place.

"Inside our culture and education is peace and compassion," Geshe Losang Yonten said through an interpreter, Stanzin Dawa.

Near the end of an 11-month "Sacred Art Tour" across the United States, monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in south India arrived Wednesday morning at Unity Spiritual Center in Colorado Springs.

Amid the world's political unrest, hurricanes, earthquakes and other turmoil, the mandala has imparted the same unspoken words for centuries: compassion, loving kindness, peace and unity.

"There's a difference between a prayer you hear and a prayer you see - it touches your heart instead of your mind," said Ahriana Platten, minister of Unity Spiritual Center. The multi-denominational congregation has about 250 members including Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Sufis and pagans.

Wearing a long maroon robe and yellow vest - colors that more than 500 years ago were deemed unattractive - the men first chanted, meditated and prayed "for positive things, for unity in your city, for the people here and all sentient beings," Yonten said.

The monks then spent more than two hours creating the outline of a Green Tara Sand Mandala on a large board in the middle of the sanctuary.

Tibetan Monks are spending the week at the Unity Spiritual Center at the Unity Church in the Rockies as a part of the Sacred Art Tour. Geshe Losang Yonten and Thinley Gyytso (left to right) are creating a sand mandala by applying millions of grains of colored sand by hand on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. In keeping with the Buddhist teachings of impermanence, the Mandala will be swept up in a ceremony of dissolution on Saturday, returning the sand to the wind. The public is invited to watch the creation of the mandala Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette 

"The process is really cool," Platten said.

The monks use rulers and protractors to map out the precise geometry of the piece. But the image is shaped freehand, using 20 colors of sand ground from rock in India and dyed with lemons.

"The design is in their head," Platten said.

The congregation chose the female Buddha design because of its symbolism that encompasses safety, healing, health, education, jobs, dangers and empathy.

"This is a prayer that addresses suffering and compassion," Platten said, "and with all the things happening in our country and our world, we feel more compassion is needed."

The humming emitted from the vibrating instruments that distribute the sand is cicada-like.

"The sound is very mesmerizing," said Shenna LaBelmore. "It's almost like music. It's not irritating at all."

LaBelmore, a member of the congregation, spent Wednesday watching the process and "praying for healing and compassion for all people."

She returned to Colorado Springs a few days ago from helping her sister deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Florida.

"After getting out of the 'do' mode, I realized how fragmented I was," she said. "It feels like an honor and privilege to see such sacredness."

The mandala, a space where it is believed no obstacles or impurities can penetrate, will take several days to complete.

The public can observe the monks shaping the mandala from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the center, 1945 Mesa Road.

In keeping with Buddhist teachings, the mandala will be wiped away Saturday during a dissolution ceremony from 10 a.m. to noon. The ceremony represents the fleeting nature of life, Yonten said.

"Life is very short and impermanent, and after all the work and beauty, in one minute it's gone," Yonten said.

Attendees may take home some of the sand. The remaining 1 kilo of sand will be released into a river, which ends up at the ocean as one body of water, he said.

Also, a traditional Tibetan fire ritual will be held 7 p.m. Friday at the center with chants and music by the monks. 

The events are free, but donations are being accepted to benefit the 2,000 students of the monastery, who have been exiled from Tibet and live in India. The monks also are selling goods handmade by Tibetan refugees, such as jewelry and clothing.

For more information, call or text Lenora Degen, 649-0411.

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