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Tibetan Monks Impart Exquisite Art to the Waters
Monday, August 5, 2019


The doors of the Argyros Performing Arts Center opened wide and out walked Samuel Mollner and Michael Hoover holding the front ends of two Tibetan horns.

Two Tibetan monks on the other ends of the 10-foot horns blared through them, the sound reverberating against the two men in the lead.

Passersby on Main Street pounded their horns in unison as eight Tibetan monks and several dozen followers proceeded, escorting a very special vessel to Trail Creek, a few short blocks away.

From the middle of a wooded footbridge straddling the picturesque creek, one of the monks turned the vessel slowly, letting grey sand stream down into the creek. The sand hit the creek, creating a momentary ripple in the water and rebounded to the bridge as a poof of dust.

The sand would be carried to the Big Wood River and from there to the oceans of the world, blessing the whole world, Geshe Tenzin Phentsok told the audience.

“It’s been amazing the focus and concentration this past week and the blessings that will come upon this place,” said Ketchum resident Mary Ann Chubb.

The dispersing of the sand was the culmination of five days of work in which Tibetan monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery in southern India had created a sand mandala in the Bailey Studio of the Argyros Center for the Performing Arts.

They had bent over the mandala for hours on end, dropping millions of grains of sand into an intricate design they’d painstaking outlined on the first day.

Mandalas are considered one of the most exquisite art forms in the world. And this was no different. It was richly layered in meaning and full of icons from geometric shapes to ancient spiritual symbols. It was very detailed, very precise.

As with all mandalas, it took the form of a circle--a visual way for Buddhists to represent a sacred universe that may be attained after enlightenment.

“It’s amazing the patience and attention to detail,” said Ketchum resident Peggy Dean, who checked in on the progress of the mandala throughout the week.

Ketchum resident Connie Grabow echoed her thoughts: “The practice is so painstaking. I tried it and I found my fingers were shaking. I was just hoping they wouldn’t sneeze.”

In fact, the monks are taught never to sneeze or cough while working on a mandala, said Tenzin.

The monks worked from the inside out, a symbolic representation of how a child grows from the union of sperm and egg until the entire universe is experienced. Colored sand streamed out of foo-long funnels the width of cigars as they ran metal sticks back and forth across ridges on the funnels.

And, when they had finished, one of the monks pushed a small scepter through the colored sand, pushing it to the center on all four sides.

As other monks pushed the sand to the center with brushes it turned grey before being ceremoniously deposited in the vessel.

Casey Mott, the new director of the arts center, watched as the monks dismantled the mandala to show how all things come out of nothingness and eventually return to it.

It was the perfect metaphor for the performing arts, he would tell an audience later that night. Like the mandala, the performing arts can be fleeting but so important to our lives, he added.

Come evening the monks, who are on a Mystical Arts of Tibet tour, took the stage of the Argyros, performing ancient folk dances that originated in Tibet during festivals of sacred music and dance open to the villagers surrounding the monastery.

Clad in their yellow fan-like hats resembling rooster combs, one of the singers invoked the forces of goodness, holding the back of his hand against his mouth as he uttered three chords that vibrated like a didgeridoo.

Then as one monk banged on a lollipop-colored drum that stood on a large ornately carved stick, two dancers wearing large black hats the size of sombreros and carrying daggers symbolizing wisdom whirled across the floor waving their arms.

The Dance of the Black Hat Masters is done at New Year’s to purify negatives accumulated through the year.

The Dance of the Skeleton Lords featured dancers sporting 3D rib cages on their red coats, appearing as the forces of goodness to remind people of the need to be authentic in an ephemeral world.

The music was not melodic like Westerners are used to. But the blending of sounds seemed to fit the monks’ desire to see harmony in the world.

The dance that resonated most with the audience was the Dance of the Snow Lion, performed by two dancers under a large white costume. His fluffy green tail wagged like a happy dog. His ears twitched. His eye lids bounced.

And, in the end, a banner scrolled down from his oversized mouth saying “World Peace” to the crowd’s applause

Another piece that intrigued some audience members was a stylized presentation of a Tibetan monastic debate between monks deliberating the origin of the word Buddha.

Monks believe that philosophical debate is one of the paths to wisdom and their animated, impassioned debates, which can last for hours, are a big attraction for tourists as they jump around, clap their hands and evoke the word for wisdom.

“I wish we debated like that,” said Anne Kalik. “And, of course, the Snow Lion was so adorable”

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