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Buddhist monks draw a crowd as sand mandala gets under way in St. Petersburg

The hottest show in town this week is an eight-piece band of Buddhist monks putting together a mandala that contemplates world peace one grain of sand at a time.

More than 40 people were at the door Tuesday morning waiting for Florida CraftArt Galleries in downtown St. Petersburg to open, and the crowd doubled in size as a chanting ceremony commenced.

The attraction was eight Tibetan monks from a monastery in India, one selling Tibetan goods from a table piled high with brightly colored scarves, wall hangings and journals, and seven seated around a bright blue platform that will hold an intricate mandala by week's end.

A symbol of the Buddhist lesson that life is beautiful and impermanent, the mandala is created in a meditative sequence of laying down brightly colored sand in repetitive patterns. The monks use a chakpur, a fluted, cone-shaped tool, to pour tiny lines of sand into a circular pattern that holds meaning in their symbols, colors and placement.

This one is called the World Peace Mandala, and it was designed with a dove in the center over the planet Earth and is surrounded by symbols of every major religion, including a Jewish Star of David, a Christian cross and, the star and crescent moon of Islam. The next ring of the mandala will have people of all colors holding hands.

"All of these religions have a message of compassion and love," Lobsang Yowten said through an interpreter as he led the opening ceremony. "They are all the same. We are all the same."

Katie Deits, the new executive director at Florida CraftArt Galleries, said she has seen how mandalas can draw crowds. She knew it would be a good fit with the gallery.

"Watching the monks and when they chant together and their overall peaceful vibe, the experience and the discovery of Tibetan culture is amazing," Deits said.

The wide window of the gallery facing Central Avenue drew onlookers from the street while a crowd filled the gallery space, pulling out their cellphones to record the chanting or quietly sitting with eyes closed.

A tray holding two dozen bowls of sand in colors of cobalt blue, emerald, saffron, lime, ruby and lemon was set aside as they drew the geometric outline of the mandala using a protractor and chalk. Nearby, an altar held a picture of the Dalai Lama next to a basket of apples and offering bowls containing rice, incense, candles and flowers.

"East meets West," chuckled Lyn Dean, a voice-over artist from Gulfport, when she noticed a Publix produce sticker on one of the apples. A practicing Budd­hist, Dean said she was thrilled by the turnout in St. Petersburg.

"It feels like the community is really evolving," Dean said. "We all have so much stress we are carrying around, and once people get into that space, they really find some peace and breathe and see each other."

Once the monks got working on the mandala, the gallery stayed quiet, with some visitors closing their eyes to take in the peaceful chucka-chucka-chucka sound of the tapping of the chakpur to release sand. The Budd­hists believe the rhythmic repetition has a meditative, calming effect and produces a sense of peace just by gazing at it.

The monks come from the Drepung Gomang monastery in India, one that educates a community of 2,000 monks. While visiting CraftArt, they will share Tibetan culture and traditions and offer lessons. There are several community activities surrounding the mandala construction, and there will be daily chanting.

Sunday brings a dissolution ceremony at which a crowd will walk six blocks from the gallery to the bay to scatter the swept-up sand into the water as a symbol of the cycle of life.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

.if you go

Peaceful pursuits

Sand mandala: Eight Tibetan monks from the Drepung Gomang monastery in India are at Florida CraftArt Galleries, 501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, to make the World Peace Mandala. It's free to watch.

Daily chanting: 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. today, Thursday and Saturday.

Art and spirituality talk: 1:30 p.m. today, led by Unitarian Universalist minister Jack Donovan and poet Maureen McDole of Keep St. Pete Lit.

Guided meditation: Bring pillows or mats, 3:45-4:30 p.m. Friday.

Rock painting workshop: Led by the monks 10:30 a.m.-noon Saturday. $10 donation requested.

Dissolution ceremony: The monks will sweep up the mandala and proceed to the bay, where they will scatter the sand into the water and perform a Buddhist blessing. Starts at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Buddhist monks draw a crowd as sand mandala gets under way in St. Petersburg 01/31/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2017 4:52pm]
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