Visiting monks work to rid Aspen of negativity |

Visiting monks work to rid Aspen of negativity

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A sudden burst of color, another swirl of sand, and a lotus flower springs to life under the steady hand of its creator.

The lotus will eventually become lost in the design, just one of a thousand painstakingly rendered details that will make up Aspen’s own sand mandala. For now, however, the flower is a tiny highlight of a developing masterpiece ? one created not only to amaze onlookers, but to relieve them of their spiritual troubles.

The mandala, a sacred sand mural that represents the highest power of Buddhism, is a gift to the Aspen community from a visiting group of Tibetan monks. With the mural’s creation, the six monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery in southern India hope to extract negativity from the surrounding community.

The design process happens slowly. Work on the mandala takes nearly eight hours a day for a week, even with three monks working by hand on the 3-foot-wide sand drawing.

The intricate design of the mandala is done almost entirely from memory, with the monks precisely placing each sacred symbol with their specialized tools.

Once this negativity has been collected in the mandala, it will be swept away when the monks dissolve their work and use it to bless the Earth by way of the Roaring Fork River. The Dissolution of the Mandala will take place at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Herron Park.

“Everybody needs some method to remove negativity from body and mind,” monk Lobsang Wangchuk said.

To allow the community to track the mandala’s progress, the monks have established a base at the Mill Street Plaza’s Sherwood Gallery ? a small space the group has converted into a tiny temple.

Tibetan prayer flags line the gallery walls, framing a small altar created for blessing ceremonies and the monks’ mandala work space. The gallery has been given a contemporary flair, however ? a Web camera will allow Internet users to track the growth of the mandala at

Space in the gallery has also been allotted to the monks’ astrologer as well as local Buddhism practitioners.

Visitors are welcomed to the temporary Tibetan center, located just below Jimmy’s Restaurant, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today through Friday to see the development of the mandala.

And visitors hoping for good karma can help improve the monks’ financial health.

These monastic tours, organizers stress, are the monks’ sole source of income ? as political refugees, they are not able to work in India.

The Gaden Shartse group will soon complete a 16-month tour of the United States, creating blessed sand mandalas for host communities and drumming up interest in their fund-raising campaign.

The money will be used to fund day-to-day operations at the monastery, a haven for nearly 5,000 Buddhist students, teachers and practitioners.

The numbers grow by the day, the monks’ Aspen hosts say, as “each week more children arrive … having made the perilous journey over the Himalayas” in search of food, shelter and an education.

Though the Gaden Shartse monks accept donations, they will also provide a number of services during their stay in Aspen. Individual healing sessions or astrology readings are available for a donation of $50 each, and can be booked by calling Marcia Fisher at 379-7152.

A number of Tibetan wares are also for sale at the monks’ Sherwood Gallery headquarters.

On Friday, the monks will also host a public teaching and group healing ceremony at the Aspen Community Church from 7 to 9 p.m. A suggested $10 donation will allow visitors to see Frank Berliner, a senior faculty member at Naropa University in Boulder, speak on the teachings of Shambhala Buddhism, as well as take part in a tantric purification and healing ritual.

Considering the growing local interest in Buddhist teachings, the monks are hopeful that their latest Aspen trip will be both a spiritual and financial success.

“We always like coming to Aspen. The people are very receptive,” Lobsang said.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is]

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