On Dalai Lama’s Southern California visit, Tibetan monks make mandala from sand

Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama, left, with Tibetan monk Sherab Chopel, the principal artist who created the mandala, view it together during a private event in Irvine. The sand mandala was created to commemorate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Creating a mandala is as painstaking as it is beautiful.

Grain by grain, two Tibetan monks meticulously placed colored sand during the last two weeks on the campus of UC Irvine, forming a brightly hued pattern that’s said to attract “loving-kindness.”

This particular mandala depicts the celestial home of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion. It was created to commemorate the 80th birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama, whom Tibetan Buddhists revere as a living embodiment of Avalokiteshvara.

The site at UC Irvine was chosen because it will become the new home of the Center for Living Peace, a nonprofit that sponsored the Dalai Lama’s visit this week to Orange County.


The monks’ diligent work — from 9 a.m. to midnight, for 10 days — climaxed Tuesday morning, when the Dalai Lama blessed it. He studied the mandala with the principal artist, a Tibetan monk named Sherab Chopel.

In time, the mandala will be destroyed. Monks will sweep the sand and return it to the ocean.

Unlike so many art forms, it’s an exercise in impermanence and the ephemeral. The mandala shows four arms, which organizers said symbolize the qualities required for enlightenment: joy, equanimity, loving-kindness and compassion.

Perhaps there’s a fifth quality.


During the private gathering, the Dalai Lama paused and without provocation, looked directly at Los Angeles Times photojournalist Francine Orr, saying, “Compassion without wisdom is nothing.”

Times staff writer Sarah Parvini contributed to this report.

For news in California, follow @MattHjourno and @francineorr.


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