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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Meditation written in sand

October 20, 2009

Tibetan monks, like their Avolokitesvara, simultaneously work and pray
By Robert Amos
Victoria Times Colonist
October 17, 2009

A Tibetan monk concentrates intensely as he makes
his contribution to a sand mandala at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

A Tibetan monk concentrates intensely as he makes
his contribution to a sand mandala at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

A heightened sense of reverence seems to take
over when you enter the presence of the Tibetan
Buddhist monks at work at the Art Gallery of
Greater Victoria. A group has come from the Gaden
Jangtse Monastery in India to be with us for the
month of October, where they are patiently at
work creating a sand mandala. Their visit is
sponsored by the art gallery and the Canada-Tibet Committee.

The gallery is resplendent with a remarkable
collection of Tibetan thangka paintings, gilt
bronze statuettes and jewelry of turqouise and
coral. Each of these objects, most of them
antiques, is worthy of careful study but
inevitably one's attention is drawn to the
saffron-and-burgundy robed monk kneeling to work
in the centre of the room on a mandala
representing the sacred and magical realm of Avolokitesvara.

Beyond the quiet chanting, the only sound is a
metallic "scritch scritch" as the monk directs a
tiny stream of coloured sand, grain by grain,
into place in the complex geometric pattern. With
infinite patience he draws forth from memory a
timeless and ephemeral prayer made manifest.

The major wall of this room is given over to a
number of representations of Avolokitesvara.
Detailed ancient paintings show the deity with a
thousand arms and row upon row of heads. Above
all is a modern photo-thangka showing the Dalai
Lama, 14th in succession and the current head of Tibetan Buddhists.

Below his photo is a small case with two ancient
bronze statuettes showing Avolokitesvara. As I
gazed, and meditated, all at once I sensed that
there is a distinct similarity between the face
in the photo and the statuette. And why not?
During time beyond time the same spirit has
inhabited these forms. The many arms
simultaneously pray, beckon, offer and aid. The
faces look in all directions to offer help and
guidance to everyone. The little bronze feet seem
to rise slightly off the ground, as befits a saint.

The truth of reincarnation seemed manifest before
me. These monks are technicians of the sacred,
part of an ongoing tradition by which we come to
terms with the more-than-mundane. The artworks
are brought to life by their presence.

I encourage you to visit the gallery while the
monks are present. It's enlightening, uplifting and -- perhaps -- transcendent.

The monks will be working on the mandala at the
gallery until Oct. 25. The exhibition of the
Sacred Arts of Tibet continues until Dec. 6,
2009. For information call 250-389-0303 or visit
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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