Painting for Compassion: the Sands of Time June 17, 2011

I entered into the gallery to see three of four monks resting on a bench. I immediately walked up to them; looked each one directly in the eye, shook their hand, and thanked them.

I was there to become their student, and learn detachment.

These Buddhist monks from the Sera Mahayana Buddhist Monastary,located in the Mysore District of Southern India, created a sand mandala in the Davidson Gallery at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art the week of, May 17th through May 21st. Four artist-monks made a stop in Santa Barbara as part of their 2011 World Peace Tour to create this mandala.

Mandala is the Sanskrit word for circle. The mandala was dedicated to the deity Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), who is the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

In the Hindu and Buddhist religions, sacred art of the tsera monastery tribe takes the shape of a mandala. A mandala is a structure which is used to invite a deity. The basic shape for most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the shape of a T.

Mandalas are a form of sandpainting which is not restricted just to India or Tibet. Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, and Latin Americans, on certain Christian holy days, create their own sandpaintings for their own holidays and ceremonies.

The Sera artist-monks sit cross-legged on pillows hunched a few inches from the blue square background, a mandalas basic shape. With a ribbed metal cone, the monks pour colored sand into the cone and then tilt the cones small end to the form. Scrapping or rubbing the cone with a wooden pick, they carefully control the flow of sand onto the design. Slight scrapping pours out a small amount of sand while more aggressive scrapping lets larger amounts of sand flow from the horn. This is how the most delicate lines of color are controlled by the creators of the mandala.

As you watch the monks work on the mandala all you will hear is the scrapping of the pick on the cone. At times the monks will use a larger piece of wood to create furrows in the sand before adding contrasting color. Think of this as a hand plow.

When the Mandala is completed, there is a closing celebration with prayers, chants etc. Afterwards the mandala is dismantled, (destroyed), and the sands returned to the sea.

question myself: what is my motivation for creating art? My answer: much like these monks, it is to teach and inspire. but alas, I am way more attached to the longevity of what I produce.

My ego must be huge. I realize that I have much more to learn about detachment.

Photo: T. Van Stein