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Former monk carves out ancient art
The StarPhoenix[Saturday, December 21, 2002 11:30]
Lobsang Samten will create a 1.3-metre mandala (an ancient circular design made from sand) this weekend at the Mendel Art Gallery. (Richard Marjan)
Lobsang Samten will create a 1.3-metre mandala (an ancient circular design made from sand) this weekend at the Mendel Art Gallery. (Richard Marjan)
By Betty Ann Adam

The ancient Tibetan tradition of sandpainting comes to life in Saskatoon today through Sunday.

Lobsang Samten, a Tibetan ex-monk, will create a 1.3-metre mandala -- a circular design -- at the Mendel Art Gallery over three days, using painstaking skills perfected during his 16-year training at the Monastery Manzyal in Northern India.

Using ordinary sand tinted 14 colours and a simple technique, Samten will draw an ancient pattern believed to have been designed by the Buddha himself more than 2,600 years ago.

"The mandala is like the art of how to be a better human being. It brings peace and compassion for the environment," Samten said Thursday.

Ironically the ancient art cannot be practised in Tibet, where it is considered a crime worthy of prison.

A complete mandala is a complex pattern that can take three to six weeks to create. Sometimes it is made by one individual, sometimes by groups of four artists who use handmade funnels to shake thin particle streams onto a specially prepared surface.

The process includes dismantling the intricate image by sweeping it into a vase and pouring it into the river, an act symbolizing the transience of all things.

"Nothing lasts forever. Everything comes and goes like the seasons," he said.

"It teaches (one) to let go of negative feelings and thoughts."

People who observe the meditative mandala sandpainting are often calmed by it and say they feel kindness, compassion and energy, he said.

Samten will work on the mandala from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Sunday.

Admission is free but donations will be accepted and forwarded to the Manzyal monastery.

He will also present a slide show about mandalas and the spirituality of sandpainting at 7 p.m. tonight at the Mendel.

On Saturday at 7 p.m. he'll show slides and give a talk about his two-year stint as a technical advisor for the 1998 Tibetan historical movie, Kundun, which was directed by Martin Scorcese.

Samten was a child when his family sought refuge in Northern India as the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959.

In 1969 he became a student at the Manzyal monastery in Dharamsala, India, seat of the Tibetan government in exile.

In 1985 Samten received his Master of Buddhist Sutra and Tantra degree and served the Dalai Lama as his personal attendant.

He left the monastery in 1988 and came to the United States, where he participated in an exhibit

He founded the Tibetan Buddhist Centre of Philadelphia, where he teaches Buddhist meditation.

He gave up monastic life in 1995 and now serves as a lay practitioner, traveling extensively, demonstrating mandala sandpainting to share Tibetan culture and help to keep it alive in the world.
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