The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday January 17th

Tibetan monk artists visit Chapel Hill

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Four monks sit in a circle at the Unity Center for Peace recreating a complex piece of art, the Medicine Buddha mandala, using millions of grains of colored sand.

The large piece of three-dimensional sand art takes five days for eight monks to complete and requires painstaking attention to detail and knowledge of the intricate Medicine Buddha mandala.

The monks are from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in southern India and are part of the Sacred Arts Tour. The year-long tour travels around the country to raise money for the nearly 2,000 monks living at the monastery.

Eve Barkley, organizer of the event, said this is the second year the monks have come to Chapel Hill. She said the monastery sends different monks each year for the tour.

“This is an event that can bring people together in a positive way,” Barkley said.

Volunteer Nancy Sherman said the monks stay in homes around the community after finishing their daily painting at the Unity Center.

“It’s the most wonderful experience being around them,” Sherman said. “They’re such peaceful, loving people.”

Monk Geshe Tsondu said after the mandala is completed, it will be deconstructed, and the sand will be given out to people at a ceremony and returned to the earth by pouring it into a nearby creek.

The monks also create other works of art, such as watercolor paintings and drawings. These pieces, along with other items, are available for purchase at the Unity Center to benefit the monastery.

In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet, the home of the original Drepung Monastery, with about 100 monks, due to the invasion of communist China. The Dalai Lama and the refugee monks rebuilt the current monastery in southern India.

The monks from Drepung construct mandalas wherever they believe a need for environmental healing is needed or requested.

The Unity Center is open for the public to watch the painting daily until Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The deconstruction ceremony will take place at the Unity Center on Saturday at 2 p.m.

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