The sand mandala – and its destruction – is only part of a special visit to The Dennos Museum Center by the famed multiphonic singers of Drepung Loseling monastery.
Endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to promote world peace and healing through sacred performing art, the Tibetan Buddhist monks have performed in many of America’s greatest theaters and music halls. From April 14-19, the monks will chant, play music, and create the intricate mandala. The visit culminates in a closing ceremony concert, “Sacred Music Sacred Dance for World Healing,” where the monks, dressed in colorful costumes and masks, perform special music and sacred dances.
The music includes multiphonic singing, wherein one monk sings three notes at once. The Tibetans are the only culture on earth that cultivates this ability, which reshapes the vocal cavity, intensifying the natural overtones of the voice.
They also play traditional instruments such as 10-foot long dung-chen horns (sometimes compared to the trumpeting of elephants), drums, bells, cymbals and gyaling trumpets, the predecessor of the modern oboe.
In the days leading up to the concert, the monks will painstakingly create a mandala sand painting in the museum’s sculpture court. A mandala is a Hindu or Buddhist graphic symbol of the universe. The basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates, containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the general shape of a T.
The lamas first draw an outline of the mandala on a wooden platform. On the following days, millions of grains of colored sand are painstakingly laid into place. Each monk holds a traditional metal funnel called a chakpur while running a metal rod on its grated surface. The vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid onto the platform.
Traditionally, most sand mandalas are destroyed shortly after their completion. This is done as a metaphor for the impermanence of life. The sands are swept up and placed in an urn.
Then, to fulfill the function of healing, half is carried to a nearby body of water. The waters then carry the healing blessing to the ocean, and from there it spreads throughout the world for planetary healing.
The other portion of the sand will be distributed to the audience at the closing ceremony concert.
The visit by the monks is to spread a special message, said Gala Rinpoche, a resident teacher and director of programs for the monks at the American seat of the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta, GA.
“Peace, love, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness,” he said. “That is all our mission.”
The Buddhist spiritual teachers, or Dalai Lamas, had long held political authority in Tibet, but eight years after China invaded Tibet in 1951, the Dalai Lama fled to India.
“We have been in exile since 1959,” Rinpoche said. “We try to preserve and share our culture in exile.”
Rinpoche said the monks see the music as part of what they call “taming the untamed mind.” They believe that negative emotions are the source of all suffering, and the week of creation and performance is meant to countermand those negative emotions.
Since first touring in 1988-89, the Mystical Arts of Tibet has generated a loyal and ever-expanding audience. Their tours have enabled them to continue spreading the word about their culture and their continued exile from their homeland.
“We are very fortunate. We have successful support from our Western friends,” Rinpoche said. “We still have a huge response wherever we go.”
In addition to their solo performances, the monks have performed with a number of well-known musicians in a variety of genres: Kitaro, Paul Simon, Philip Glass, and the Beastie Boys, among others. Their music has also been featured in films.
The tour is endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and has three basic purposes: to make a contribution to world peace and healing; to generate a greater awareness of the endangered Tibetan civilization; and to raise support for the Tibetan refugee community in India.
In addition to the monks’ mandala, members of the public will also be able to create a community mandala. Visitors will be able to add colored sand to a design throughout the week.
Tickets to the Saturday performance are $25 in advance, $28 at the door and $22 for museum members plus fees. Tickets may be purchased by calling the museum box office at (231) 995-1553 or online at dennosmuseum.org, They are also available by calling 800-836-0717 or visiting mynorthtickets.com.