Laguna Beach community embraces return of Drepung Gomang monks

Drepung Gomang monks delicately work on a colorful world peace mandala at the Sawdust Festival Friday.
Drepung Gomang monks delicately work on a colorful world peace mandala at the Sawdust Festival during their visit to Laguna Beach on Friday. The visit, their first to Laguna since 2019, concludes Sunday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Seven monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery arrived in Laguna Beach last weekend, and a week of work began taking shape.

Returning to the coastal community for the first time since 2019, their daily tasks have included the beautiful and precise work to create a world peace mandala at the Sawdust Art Festival.

Those who visited the Healy House on the festival grounds on Friday afternoon were treated to a mandala whose interior ring already depicted symbols of various faiths, religions and spiritualities.

A Drepung Gomang monk finishes a walk around the labyrinth path made in honor of their visit.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

An outer ring was being filled with auspicious symbols, making reference to qualities such as fearlessness, purification, virtue and wisdom.

“I think what I get from them is this is what I want in my own life,” said Pam Wicks, an organizer of the monks’ visit for a Tiebetan Sacred Art Tour. “They have a presence that is peaceful, it’s wise, it’s loving, it’s spontaneous and fun, and very centered. They just live life in the present moment.”

Unrecognizable without the artist booths generally seen spread throughout the grounds, the property currently features various activities inspired by the visitation of the monks.

Drepung Gomang monks use chak-pur tools to place sand for a colorful world peace mandala at the Sawdust Festival.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A circular labyrinth invites those who enter it to reach a lotus flower at its center. Four signs placed around it could be mistaken for cardinal directions on a compass. The individual words appearing on the respective signs are compassion, mindfulness, patience and silence.

Leigh Sauser, a 50-year resident of Laguna Beach, said she attended an event Monday at which the monks appeared. Her experience was a positive one, and she was back on Friday, looking on in admiration as the visitors continued their work on the mandala.

A group of Tibetan monks will come to Laguna Beach from April 14 through 23, marking their first visit to the coastal community since 2019.

April 11, 2024

“There was this amazing chanting,” Sauser said of the Monday event. “It just felt so good. I’ve been in a little bit of a funk, and the next day, I felt better, and the next day, I felt like my old self. It was a real significant physical change, and it was just [from] listening to the chanting.

“I can’t say it’s transformative, but I can say that since I have been coming, I’m really transfixed, and so I feel so honored to be here.”

The progress made on a colorful world peace mandala by Drepung Gomang monks as of Friday at the Sawdust Festival.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The mandala is being created with colored sand, chak-pur (traditional tools for Tibetan sand painting), pencils and protractors. A work created with such care would be hard to let go, but the monks will sweep it up in a dissolution ceremony upon completion on Sunday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“I think Westerners have a hard time with that because what they’re teaching us is that everything is impermanent, the ephemeral nature of being,” Wicks said. “The thing about Buddhism that really is one of the basic teachings is that what causes suffering is attachment.

“They’re teaching us that everything passes away. Therefore, if that’s so, then you work on becoming present, … working on your mind.”

A member of the Drepung Gomang monks hangs a banner at the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach on Friday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)