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Tibetan Monks Crisscross the U.S. Making Sand Mandalas

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No, it isn't a rug, a painting or some kind of game board. The magnificent design you see here is an intricately constructed sand mandala, created via painstaking methods by a group of seven very special Tibetan monks visiting the U.S.

The monks, who hail from the Ganden Jangtse Monastery in Mundgod, South India, are on a year-long tour through the U.S. that began last July, spending time in communities that are interested in learning more about Buddhist philosophy and practices. The monks spend anywhere from a week to two weeks in each location, during which they practice meditation, chant and dance in amazing costumes. They also bend over for hours and hours pouring minute quantities of sand into designs on the floor. They pour the sand -- which has the feel of face powder -- from long brass instruments that narrow down to the width of a pencil point.

The result: magnificently colorful and minutely detailed designs out of sand. All the designs are done from memory, using patterns created 2,500 years ago. Mandalas made out of sand are unique to Tibetans. The mandalas are said to have healing and purifying effects and yield positive energy to the environment and those viewing them.

And what happens to these extraordinarily works of art at the end? The monks hold a closing ritual in which they ask for healing blessings and then, they sweep away the millions of grains of colorful sand, a reminder to all of us that life -- and all of our labors -- are fleeting.

The monks have been crisscrossing the U.S., visiting communities in California, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas and other states. They are being sponsored in the U.S. by a Tibetan Buddhist Center in Los Angeles.

This past weekend, the monks were making their second visit to Massachusetts, and staying in a Veterans Center. On Saturday, we joined community members in Shrewsbury, Mass., while the monks created a mandala, and then demonstrated their remarkable dances.

Later, friends of ours hosted a dinner for the monks that evening, and before we ate our vegetarian meal, the monks performed their evening puja, a long chanting and meditation ritual. The event lasted about an hour, and was full of music and deep-throated chanting, as well as ringing bells, horns, drums and a purification ritual that involved a pitcher with peacock feathers. At the end of the puja, the monks blessed the home of our friends.

It was a very special and thrilling event, deeply moving and full of spiritual significance.

To see the monks in action, making a medicine sand mandala, go to YouTube.