Yesterday I ventured out to Philadelphia Cathedral in west Philly with Albert to see Losang Samten work on a mandala, which is a 6-foot circular colorful sand painting that is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist art form. The mandala that Losang is creating is the "Wheel of Life" and represents the universe and many aspects of life. Each mandala has the same concept, but no two mandalas are alike.
He grew up in Tibet where he was a personal attendant to the Dalai Lama. Losang escaped Tibet in 1959, in the same year as the Dalai Lama. Losang introduced the mandala art form to the USA and founded the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia in the late 80s.
I was familiar with mandalas after seeing the movie Kundun (directed by Martin Scorcese) in the theater over 10 years ago and it has remained one of my favorite films. Little did I know that Losang was one of the main actors in the movie, playing the role of himself: the Dalai Lama's attendant. He also served as a religious advisor and master sand painter in the film.
Here is a photo of me with Losang (in mid-laugh) taken by Albert.
Losang working on the mandala on a raised platform with the entrance to the Cathedral in the background.
Two metal tubes containing colorful grains of sand are rubbed together, releasing only a minimal amount of sand.
This is how much of the mandala has been created so far when we visited yesterday. Losang started the mandala on January 13th. Through January 27, creation of the mandala is open to the public during the hours of 10am-4pm (he takes a lunch break from noon - 1pm). You can also view the creation process of this mandala on the Cathedral's website. In addition to the mandala creation, there is a photography exhibit of recent photos from Tibet by photographer, Jeff Donovan. The Cathedral itself is also worth checking out.
The creation of the mandala is part of Philadelphia Cathedral's pilgrimage for peace that runs from January 13 - February 3. There will be a ceremony on February 3 at noon when the mandala will be swept away and returned to nature.