Thursday, September 6, 2012

Livin' La Vida Local, no. 2: Drepung Gomang Tour

Known for its many fountains, a ridiculous number of barbecue restaurants, stellar live jazz and blues, and a well-established art scene, Kansas City, Missouri, provides plenty to experience. I thoroughly enjoy livin' la vida local in the Flyover Zone. Join me as I explore new finds and old faves in this big small town I call home.  

The monks visiting Kansas City from the Drepung Gomang Monastery stand together in saffron and maroon.
The Temple Buddhist Center/Unity Temple on the Plaza, University of Kansas, the Vietnamese Buddhist Association, and the Rime Buddhist Center are currently hosting the Drepung Gomang Tour 2012. The Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in Mundgod, South India, are in town to spread their message of interfaith peace and raise funds to support the 2,000 monks in residence at the monastery and to provide food, lodging and education for the refugees who have fled to the monastery from Chinese-occupied Tibet.
This highly detailed sand mandala contains a wide variety of imagery, including common symbols of the major world religions, a lotus and other flowers, ducks, a river valley, and decorative patterns.
Monks at work on the mandala at Unity Temple use special tools called chakpur to guide the sand into place.

I witnessed the construction and destruction of the the interfaith peace sand mandala the monks created at Unity Temple this past week. The painting was beautiful, but like many beautiful things, it is no longer in existence. Don’t fret, though; the monks are currently constructing a mandala at the Spencer Museum of Art on the KU campus, and they will build yet another one at the Vietnamese Buddhist Association next week. You can see the mandala at KU on Thursday, September 6  from 11:30 am - 7:00 pm and on Friday, September 7 from 10:30 am - 2:00 pm. The Closing Ceremony will begin at 2:00 pm. The mandala construction at the Vietnamese Buddhist Association will be open to the public on Friday, September 14 and Saturday, September 15 from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm and on Sunday, September 16 from 10:00 - 11:00 am. The Closing Ceremony will begin at 11:00 am.

The finished mandala with the monks' altar behind it.
I highly recommend watching Buddhist monks construct a sand mandala. You definitely do not have to be a Buddhist to appreciate this cultural experience. The time-consuming process becomes a meditation for the viewer. The sound of sand draining from chakpur and the sight of sand slowly marking a path over the mandala is completely enthralling. That does not even begin to cover the artistic abilities and patience of the monks. One of the monks told me it took five years to learn the sand painting techniques.
The monks chanted mantras during the Completion ceremony; the chant leader had a very low voice.
The monks sliced through and swept away the sand, only to replace it with flowers and oranges from their altar.

Once the sand mandala was completed, the monks performed a ceremony to disperse their hard work into the world. They chanted sacred mantras and sliced through the painting with a knife. Then, they brushed the mixed and muddied sand into an urn (after reserving small packets of sand for those of us who attended the ceremony). Afterward, we followed the monks to Brush Creek to allow the sand to flow out into the world. The ceremony struck a friend of mine as a funeral for the art the monks had made. I told him I thought of it as a way to allow the sand to become what it will become next. 
After sweeping the sand into an urn, the monks led the group to the nearby Brush Creek to disperse the sand.

Dispersing the sand on a rainy day in Kansas City.
I overheard many people comment on the beauty of the mandala and how they couldn’t believe it was going to be destroyed. However, the construction and subsequent destruction of the mandala strikes me as a great analogy for a basic tenet of Buddhism - impermanence. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Being able to make something of such beauty and then release it from its form emphasizes this idea and makes one contemplate the meaning of change. Life goes on even after such beauty is washed away.

If you want to learn more about the Drepung Gomang Tour, please go to facebook to find more information (, or contact with specific questions.

Following the sand mandala from its beginning to its end was such a meaningful experience for me. What sacred ceremonies or experiences have moved you recently?
Alison :)

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