Tibetan Monks Bring Art, Culture to Coral Springs Museum

By their nature, art museums are places of escape and reflection from the everyday bustle and grind. That sense of meditative calm is magnified tenfold this week at the Coral Springs Museum of Art, which has become a temporary monastery for the maroon-robed emissaries of Southwest India’s Drepung Gomang Monastic University.

I visited Wednesday afternoon for a media lunch, and found two monks kneeling on pillows, toiling fastidiously on a sand mandala in the center of the main gallery. In front of a reverent shrine to the Dalai Lama—flickering candles, finger bowls filled with rice and water, apples—the artists filled their copper chakpurs, or conical tools, with sand from nearby ramekins. They used a second tool, known as a rod, to rub the chakpur, genie-like, until the sand trickled out at the desired speed and placement, grain by grain.

All photos by Yafi Yair
All photos by Yafi Yair

It’s methodical, ritualistic work that is as much about the process as the content of the mandala: an overhead view of a motley temple complete with parasols, lotus petals, deer, a guitar, a Dharma Wheel, 16 deities, 24 bodhisattvas and more. The mandala looked nearly complete on Wednesday afternoon, but looks are deceiving. The monks were only on their second day of a five-day, 100-hour mandala construction.

“It’s dedicated to Parkland,” said Julia B. Andrews, executive director of the Coral Springs Museum of Art. “Typically when the monks come, they’ll ask you what type of mandala you’ll like. Last year we did world peace. This year we asked them for the healing mandala, which is called the Medicine Buddha. It’s a reflection for Parkland—it’s helping us heal.”

This week marks the Drepung Gomang monks’ third-annual visit to the museum as part of their Sacred Art Tour, spreading their message to communities like ours over the course of a yearlong journey. Andrews said she’s lucky to have them. “They don’t travel to many museums,” she said. “They normally will go to other temples or spiritual stops. We look at them more for the art form than the spirituality and culture, but we’re delighted to have it all rolled into one.”

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Following a blessing, led by the resonant, sonorous chants of three monks, we sat down for a flavorful meal of authentic Tibetan momo—aka steamed dumplings—served with either ground beef or vegetables, alongside a mixed green salad and lentil soup. Later that afternoon, the monks would lead a Tibetan Butter Sculpture Workshop—an interactive look at their sculptural contributions, completed here with Play-Doh instead of the traditional yak butter. An evening chant, at 5:30, would conclude the day’s activities.

If you missed Wednesday’s luncheon, you still have time to experience their food and culture over the next four days. Today (Thursday), you can visit at 10 a.m. for morning changing and mandala construction, a meditation and dharma hour at noon, evening chanting at 5:30 and a Celebration of Community—an interfaith dialogue complete with inspirational panelists and light refreshments—at 7 p.m.

Morning and noon programming remains the same for the rest of the week and weekend. Additionally, the monks will offer a Mani Stone Workshop, in which participants will create their own prayer stone, at 4 p.m. Friday; a Tibetan dinner at 7 p.m. Friday; a Butter Sculpture Workshop at 3 p.m. Saturday; and a catered farewell dinner at 7 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday, festivities conclude with a Mani Stone Workshop at 11 a.m. and a Dissolution Ceremony at 2 p.m., in which the mandala will disappear from whence it came, exemplifying the Buddhist belief in the impermanence of all things.

Some of these events require ticket purchases. For the full schedule, and box office information, visit coralspringsmuseum.org/events/sacred-art-tour or call 954/340-5000. The museum is at 2855 Coral Springs Drive.