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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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Monks Return to MSU to Create Mandala Sand Painting

Tuesday through Thursday this week, Monks in the Hearth Lounge work on creating a Mandala sand painting.

Amanda Dyslin, Mankato Free Press, 9-6-2012

Blake Herricks had the best vantage point Wednesday morning at the top of the stairs looking down at the activ­ity in the Hearth Lounge.

In the lower level of the stu­dent union, four Buddhist monks were bent over a square table, their faces just inches from a delicate work surface (pictured right).

Most of the other students sit­ting a few feet from the men — who had come from Drepung Loseling Monastery of Atlanta — couldn’t see the art they were painstakingly creating, a few colorful grains of sand at a time. Herricks, on the other hand, watched from above as the details of the mandala sand painting came to life, as each monk filled his metal funnel, called a chakpur, with a particu­lar color of sand and funneled it onto the outlined black surface.

“It just looks kind of neat,” said Herricks, an MSU senior who had never seen a sand painting or a monk, for that matter, until Wednesday.

Having begun the process Tuesday, the monks will work eight hours per day until Friday constructing the image of a mandala, which is a Sanskrit word meaning cosmogram.

Mandalas have outer, inner and “secret meanings.” The outer level represents the world in its divine form; the inner level symbolizes a map of how the human mind becomes enlightened; and “on the secret level they depict the primordial­ly perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind,” according to Drepung Loseling Production, the compa­ny presenting the event.

What makes the process so unique is the result. Once the paintings are completed, they are destroyed to symbolize the impermanence of life, a fact that seemed to impress Herricks after watching the effort going into the piece.

Traditionally, the sand is swept up and placed in an urn with half distributed to the audience at the closing ceremony and half taken to and deposited in a nearby body of water. But at noon Friday, the monks will instead place the sand in vials and hand them out to attendees at the closing ceremonies, said Shayla Braunhausen of Institutional Diversity.

The monks have created sand paintings in more than 100 museums, art centers and colleges in the United States and Europe, including a previous work at MSU.

Monks with Drepung Loseling Production were on campus in 2007 for a sand painting event.

Braunhausen said the Black Student Union organization had the idea of bringing the monks back to campus this year to help promote cultural enrichment and diversity. Herricks is studying to be a social studies teacher, so learning about other cultures is definitely in his wheelhouse. Although he said the art of mandala sand painting probably won’t enter into any of his class discussions when he’s a teacher.

“But it’s still a cool thing to be able to see,” he said.

“And I probably won’t ever see it again.”

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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