One grain of sand at a time

Buddhist monks get warm reception at the Penticton Art Gallery

Inside the Penticton Art Gallery, a group of Buddhist monks are slowly, painstakingly, creating a mandala, shaking coloured sand into place, practically grain by grain.

“What we are constructing here is the is the mandala of Akshobhya Buddha. It literally translates as ‘Unshakeable Victor’ and represents conflict resolution,” said Geshe Thupten Loden, one of the Tibetan monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery in India, who brought their Mystical Arts of Tibet tour to Penticton this week.

Gallery curator Paul Crawford said they arranged the Monks’ visit as a way to wrap up the current shows in the gallery, which deal with residential schools and other aspects of the Indigenous experience in Canada.

“In doing this show, I thought a good way to end the show would be to get the monks to do a mandala that would be about healing,” said Crawford. “I just thought it would be a way to cleanse the space and do something healing after a really difficult show.”

Crawford also worked with local Elders to involve the Penticton Indian Band in the monks’ visit. Richard Armstrong, a knowledge keeper for the band, drummed the monks into the gallery and offered an opening prayer. The elders will also be holding a private exchange with the monks during their stay in Penticton.

That’s something Crawford said he wasn’t able to accomplish during a previous visit by the monks, about 10 years ago.

Related: Sharing Tibetan Buddhist culture in Penticton

“Back then there was a real desire we weren’t able to fulfill to engage our Indigenous community with the monks,” said Crawford, noting there are commonalities between the cultures. “There is a real similarity and parallels between Indigenous beliefs here and Tibetan Buddhist teachings in terms of the way they look at their environment. And then thinking beyond that, there is the concept of the cultural diaspora.”

Geshe Loden said the Drepung Loseling monks began the tours in the 1980s with three goals.

“The first is that with the unique tradition of Tibet, that is loving compassion, we try to promote peace and harmony throughout the globe,” said Geshe Loden.

That tradition, he explained, is difficult to maintain in Tibet under the Chinese occupation, so a second goal of the tours is to raise awareness about how their culture is faring under those conditions. The third goal is to raise funds to support their monastery in southern India, where the Tibetan monks live in exile, helping pay for the education of the monks, health care, food and other necessities.

The main gallery at PAG was filled with spectators for the opening ceremonies as the monks blessed and prepared the area for the mandala they will spend from now to Sunday creating. It is open to the public to watch from 1 to 6 p.m. daily and on Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Geshe Loden said he isn’t surprised about the reception and interest.

“Not very surprised, but feel very good that all the people, whatsoever the race, the colour, the nationality, whatsoever it is, everyone loves peace and harmony. That is the good thing,” he said.

The monks will be involved in a number of activities during their stay in Penticton, including presenting their Sacred Music, Sacred Dance performance on Saturday at Cleland Theatre, with an afternoon and evening performance.

More information about the Mystical Arts of Tibet tour is available on the Penticton Art Gallery website.