By Justin Swanson, Special to the Independent
Four Tibetan monks encircle a table at the front of Laguna Beach’s Neighborhood Congregational Church, each meticulously working on individual tasks part of a greater design. They fill sand in chakpurs (funnel-shaped metal tools like sticks) and exact precise distribution of the colored granules by rasping or scraping one chakpur with another. The effect is so controlled in one hand, yet availingly precise and frenetic in the other. The end goal is to refine a sand-painted mandala in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Seven monks in all began construction of the mandala on Monday, Sept. 17 by outlining the work with chalk on a table. Under the course of a week, they will have completed their work, which resolves Sunday, Sept. 23 with a dissolution ceremony leading to Thalia Street Beach.
It is the third consecutive year members have visited from the Drepung Loseling Monastic University, located in southern India in the city of Mundgod. Having fled Tibet in the early ‘90s, the monks showing in Laguna Beach this week embarked on a six-month tour of North America creating and dissolving mandalas in an effort to raise money for their monastery abroad. All of their funds raised are donation-based.
While a monk’s life is dedicated in large part to an enduring pursuit of wisdom via study and contemplation, one which never ends, it is 12 or 13 years after graduation that a monk may typically begin learning the craft of mandala, a pedantic process which takes five years to complete. The varying designs of mandalas and their corresponding textual outline are memorized before construction. This week, the monks are creating a mandala of Buddha Akshobya, the Buddha associated with purification.
The church’s musical director Pam Wicks doubles down: “These monks personify compassion and purity,” she said, while adding that the annual hosting of the monks is celebrated by the church’s congregation.
Sure enough, it is part of the NCC’s vision to provide a “sanctuary for spiritual growth” that is “open and affirming to all spiritual orientations,” said Wicks.
The Reverend B.J. Beu observes, “There are people for whom this experience [seeing the creation of the Mandala] is particularly profound but don’t have a spiritual community, group, or place to practice what they feel inside. The church offers a venue and opportunity for the larger community to come in contact with the holy.”
On the importance of interfaith communion and cultural sharing, Beu concludes, “We live in a world of increasing polarization. People expect an ‘us versus them’ mentality, which is not the language of spirit, or what we would call the Holy Spirit. The church should always be about building bridges, not walls.”
All are invited to the Lama Chopa meditative service tonight at 7 p.m. wherein the monks will lead a chant for world peace. On Saturday, Sept. 22, a film on Tibet will be screened at the church at 6 p.m. followed by a special meal prepared by the monks at 7 p.m. Following Sunday’s church service, the dissolution of the mandala will take place at 11:30 p.m. and proceed to Thalia Street Beach. All events are free, though donations are humbly encouraged.