Tibetan monks share culture, make sand mandala in Oakland Center


At noon on Monday in the Oakland Center’s Fireside Lounge, a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks stood facing a crowd of students.

Behind the monks sat a makeshift altar to the Dalai Lama, with offerings of fruit and flowers set beside his picture. Before them stood two tables, one empty and the other holding an array of colorful sands. The monks had come to create a sand painting of a mandala, a detailed circular image of symbols sacred to Tibetan Buddhism.

The monks’ presence is part of a four-day event in which they will meticulously create the image before ceremoniously taking it apart on Thursday, March 20, according to Kathleen Peterson, Multicultural Affairs Director of the Oakland University Student Congress.

Peterson was responsible for coordinating the monks’ coming to Oakland University. She said that the monks had come to Oakland years before to paint a mandala and that she had wanted to bring them back again. Peterson contacted the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India, where the monks reside, through their U.S.-based center in Atlanta.

Peterson said her idea was to allow students a glimpse of a piece of unique culture as they walked to and from class.

“I just wanted to bring it back,” Peterson said. “I think it’s a unique experience.”

The traditionally-dressed monks began with a blessing ceremony, which included several rounds of throat-chanting mantras with noisemaking from their ritual instruments. They then gathered around the empty table to begin marking out the mandala’s image with chalk lines and intricate measurements.

The monks then started to slowly lay the colored sand through a thin metal cone, which allows them to create their elaborate designs.

“It’s mesmerizing,” said Jean Ann Miller, Director of the Center for Student Activities and Leadership Development. “That’s the word I use. Mezmerizing.”

Miller said that the CSA originally discovered the monks at the National Association for Student Activities, which led to their being invited to Oakland the first time.

“It’s just really cool to see these,” said Nick Daguanno, an observing senior with interests in Buddhism. “This will be the first time I actually saw something like this in person.”

The monks will continue to paint their mandala until Thursday, when it will be completed and then swept up. Students may come and watch the ongoing process of the painting.

There is also a setup nearby where students can purchase Tibetan merchandise, including silk goods, incense, prayer beads and other goods. All proceeds go to benefit the Drepung Loseling Monastery.