Buddhist monk teaches compassion through art

Buddhist monk teaches compassion through art

staff staff

DAN PEREZ

Beginning on Monday, Nov.
1, Losang Samten started work
on his artistic creation in the
Hicks Art Center Gallery here
at Bucks. Samten is a highly
re sp e c ted Tibetan Bu ddhi st
monk who can be credited with
introducing the first display of
a Tibetan mandala in the west.
The purpose and theme of
the sand mandala is “compassion.”
Samten worked continuously
on his project through
Friday, Nov. 5, which is also
the last week of the “Facing
Inequality” exhibition in the
Hicks Art Center Gallery. The
“Facing Inequality” exhibition
consists of 400 framed photographs
of same-sex couples.
The theme of the photographic
exhibit is equ a lity an d the
theme of Samten’s mandala is
compassion.
A tradition that originated in
I ndia and dates back ov e r
1,000 years, sand mandalas
have a rich history. The traditional
tool for creating these
works is called a chak-pur, a
metal cone that holds the sand.
The chak-pur is scraped with a
small metal rod to release the
sand in a small stream. Samten
said, “Centuries ago artists
used animal horns as their
chak-pur.”
“The sand mandala is equally
cultural and spiritual, each
one can take as long as
one month to finish,”
Samten said as he began
to strain the first colored
sand from his chak-pur.
“In my compassion mandala
I am using five colors;
blue, yellow, red,
green, white. Each one
symbolizes a different
element.”
“The compassion
design in this mandala is
used for several spiritual
purposes, among them is
meditation. Another purpose
is healing,” Samten
said when discussing the
uses of the mandala. He
also described the sand of
which the mandala is
comprised: “The white
sand is from California and
New-Mexico. The different
colors of sand are made by
adding watercolor paints.”
Once the mandala has been
completed, it will be destroyed
or “dismantled” shortly after.
This is to symbolize the
Buddhist belief in the transitory
nature of material life; in
other words, returning the sand
and materials back to nature
where they came from. On
Friday at 12 p.m, Samten was
scheduled to “dismantle” the
mandala. During the closing
ceremony he was to be accompanied
by any participating
students and faculty for a walk
into Tyler State Park. Once
there the sand used for the
mandala was to be poured into
the Neshaminy Creek in a gesture
signifying the spread of
compassion throughout the
world.
Losang Samten has extensive
experience in Buddhist teachings.
He was born into a
Buddhist family in Tibet in
1959 and soon escaped to
Dharamsala, India. Samten
began studying sand mandala
art at the Tibetan Institute of
Performing Arts. In the late
1980s he was asked to come to
the U.S. by the 14th Dalai
Lama. The purpose of this trip
was to demonstrate his sand
mandala artwork.
Since he came to America,
Samten has created sand mandalas
at the American Museum
of Natural History in New
York, the Philadelphia
Museum of Art, the
Smithsonian Institution, and
the Museum of Archaeology
and Anthropology of
University of Pennsylvania.
Another interesting biographical
fact about Losang
Samten is his past involvement
with film director Martin
Scorsese. In 1997 Samten
served as the religious technical
advisor, sand mandala
supervisor, and actor for
Scorsese’s epic film
“Kundun.”
Samten is also the spiritual
director of the Tibetan
Buddhist Center of
Philadelphia. The center offers
group meditation sessions and
classes on a wide range of
Buddhist topics.
In 2002 he was awarded a
National Heritage fellowship.
This award is the United
States’ highest honor in folk
and traditional arts.