June 2nd, 2010
05:27 AM ET

A masterpiece in minutes

Update, June 7: Many of you wrote wanting to know more about the music used in the time-lapse video. The song is called "Detectors in the Eyes" and it's by Andrew Shapiro.

It took six days for a group of Buddhist monks to create an extravagant sand mandala at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

But you can watch the entire process in about two minutes thanks to the time-lapse video above.

The sacred art was created March 22-27 as part of Emory’s annual “Tibet Week” celebration. The monks were from Drepung Loseling Monastery Inc., a nonprofit organization in Atlanta dedicated to the study and preservation of Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

Sand mandalas have been in practice for thousands of years, according to Tsepak Rigzin, assistant program director for Drepung Loseling and an adjunct Tibetan language instructor at Emory. Monks use a grated metal rod and a traditional metal funnel called a chak-pur to carefully place millions of grains of colored sand on a table.

“It has to be very exact and very precise,” Rigzin said.

There are hundreds of colorful mandala designs to choose from, Rigzin said, but they all share a basic format of geometric shapes and spiritual symbols.

“Normally the monks who do this, they have to go through a lot of training programs and they have to be authenticated by their masters,” Rigzin said. “They have to memorize the oral texts and learn the ritual.”

The ritual starts with the monks blessing the site of the soon-to-be mandala. They then take several hours to draw an outline of the particular mandala they are about to build – in Emory’s case, the mandala of Avalokiteshvara, or the Buddha of compassion.

Once the outline is in place, the tedious work of laying the sand begins.

“I was really awestruck by their level of concentration,” said Mark Hill, the CNN photographer who captured the time-lapse footage at Emory's Michael C. Carlos Museum.

“People were in there talking and walking around them, taking pictures. There was a lot going on in the room. But those monks who were building that mandala were absolutely laser-focused on what they were doing.”

Hill set up two cameras in the room. One was an overhead camera that didn’t move during the six days; the other was moved every morning to get a different angle. Both ran continuously, shooting one frame every 30 seconds.

When the last grain of sand was set, the monks didn’t spend time admiring their handiwork. Within about an hour, the elaborate art they had spent days crafting was carefully swept away during a ritualistic ceremony. This is normal practice, Rigzin said; it is done to symbolize the impermanence of life.

The monks passed out half of the sand to the audience as blessings for health and healing. The rest was poured into a nearby river, Rigzin said, as a gift to Mother Earth.

Emory will be having another “Tibet Week” of sorts when the Dalai Lama visits the campus October 17-19. The exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhists has visited the school several times in the past two decades, and he was the commencement speaker there in 1998.

That year, His Holiness also helped form the Emory-Tibet Partnership, which includes various exchange programs between Emory and Tibetan institutions of higher learning.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Buddhism • Culture & Science • Leaders

soundoff (261 Responses)
  1. Patricia Nichols

    Beautiful. Not just the art, but the art of patience.

    June 2, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  2. Moki

    Thanks for sharing this story, it made my day!

    Bless the monks involved in making this gesture.

    June 2, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  3. bash

    In reply to one posted query, the Navajo also do sand paintings and they are remarkably similar, visually, to the Tibetan ones. I'm not sure of the religious significance for the Navajo. For the Buddhists, it is a lesson in impermanence...a central tenet of the practice. It is actually in contradiction to the whole notion of 'time' and the 'proper' use of it that we Westerners so value.

    June 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  4. ENicolas

    If just one of them had sneezed – I would have been happy for the rest of my life.

    June 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
    • David Strong

      Part of the training is concentration.

      June 3, 2010 at 12:47 am |
  5. Lindsady

    These same monks came to the University of Missouri – Columbia in September 2007. I was lucky enough to be on the committee that brought them to the university to create a mandala. During their last evening on campus, they held a performance of ritual dances, etc. Thank you for sharing this!

    June 2, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  6. ViviMack

    This was beautiful, too bad so many people don't understand the meaning spirituality. Humans, raised without it, tend to be negative and hateful as shown here with these posts.

    June 2, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • David Strong

      Amen, brother.

      June 3, 2010 at 12:48 am |
    • David

      When I first saw this I thought it was an incredible work of art. What disturbed me is that 1.) the uncreated one; God; the Word Jesus Christ (for His name sake) should recieve praise and glory for any beauty or good that occurs, even in this dark world. 2.) Many people are decieved by the god of this world and miss the Way to redemption from death in the after life. For broad is the road and wide is the gate that leads to death and many travel there. But small is the gate and narrow is the path that leads to eternal life. Few will find it.

      This is Love not hate. To say nothing would be to have no compassion, yes that would be hate. I knew most people would slander and mock me but if there is just one person that my Father in heaven is awakening from spiritual death and drawing to himself it would be worth it for all eternity.

      Better is open rebuke
      than hidden love.

      6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
      but an enemy multiplies kisses.

      7 He who is full loathes honey,
      but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet

      Proverbs 27:5-7


      June 3, 2010 at 7:44 am |
  7. David

    For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
    "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
    Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

    Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

    18Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

    Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

    This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."
    As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one"

    "Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

    June 2, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
    • Cathy

      @david, your a fool.

      June 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • Dawn

      You can always tell when someone is fearful of things they don't understand. They try to throw their own religion in there.

      You're a frightened idiot. GTFO.

      June 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
    • anonymous

      @david, do not bring your evil here.

      June 3, 2010 at 6:54 am |
  8. DC

    I wounder if they would consider making high resolution prints of these that they could sell. The money could be used to feed the hungry and fund other charities in their areas. The pattern could still be destroyed and poured in the water to spread its blessing around the earth.

    In this way they could get two blessings at the same time. I know I would be doubly proud and honored to hang such a print in my house, especially considering what it means.

    To the monks: Please consider the idea.

    June 2, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • Dawn

      That would destroy the point entirely.

      June 2, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
  9. Mark

    For those calling this a waste of time, I wonder what makes them say that. If you read a book is that a waste of time? Would it not be a waste of time if they then framed or made the art permanent? Is the experience not the real value here and not the product. I'm not taking some deep spiritual perspective here. I just think reading the book is an experience worth valuing rather than having the book on your mantle. Who needs the art when the monks and observers got such a monumental experience?

    June 2, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  10. saj

    Thanks! I were not there, I 've pollen.

    June 2, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  11. Steve NYC

    ahhh.... Ahhh.... AHHHH-CHEWW!!!!

    j/k – It's beautiful. 🙂

    June 2, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  12. WIZ

    from CNN: CNN.com is among the world's leaders in online news AND information delivery

    get it??? you've probably got a wild hair about the funny pages in newspapers too! Lighten up, Francis......

    June 2, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
    • WIZ

      This is response to Anne..........

      June 2, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
  13. Chris B

    I feel like these guys have already done more for the oil spill clean up than BP.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  14. Ole

    Ooops! I could see many hours of painstaking work destroyed by an unexpected sneeze or a cough.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  15. Nathan

    So many hateful people! Who cares if mandalas are centuries old? Who cares if there's an oil spill, terrorists, people dying, a US lawyer in Rwanda. THIS IS GOOD NEWS! All of you haters should just STFU and realize that there's beauty in this world! Why spread your negative thoughts? What you send out comes back to you! Every time you say something negative, talk trash about something, you send out energy and that energy will eventually come back. Stop the hate! You people make me sick.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  16. Nathan

    That is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in a very long time! I can only dream of having such artistic skills!

    June 2, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  17. Harry

    That was one of the most gorgeous pieces of artwork I have seen recently. Its a shame they destroy it afterwards as it is so gorgeous. But I can see where the idea about nothing is permanent being important is good also.

    June 2, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  18. Nash

    ok so terrorists from South Asia can do some art.. big deal!!

    June 2, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
    • bash

      I think you may be confusing the religious groups of the area. Buddhism is not related to Islam, and Buddhism tends to be peaceful (like all groups, this generalization won't always hold). However, there are no reports of modern Buddhist terrorism,and certainly none aimed at the west. There are certainly countries whose major belief system is Buddhist where conflict is/was present, such as Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and even Thailand, but these conflicts are not carried out in the name of the belief system,though they may be among . different ethnic groups whose primary belief systems differ. These tend to be ethnic conflicts rather than religious, in contrast to the conflicts between, for example, Christianity and Islam, or Hinduism and Islam...etc...

      June 3, 2010 at 7:33 am |
    • Nave

      I think you don't know about World. You don't know who is terrorist in Asia (go and read about if don't know). there no terrorist group related with Buddhist. Buddhist is not the religion its a philosophy. if you have a brain (logical thinking) you can understand. Buddhism only for the intelligent people not for the foolish. it clearly explain why people or animal get birth and why the live why the surfer and why the die.

      June 3, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  19. Brady

    I hope none of them have allergies..

    June 2, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  20. Knig Bumipolhl

    OMG Rhey've got nothing else to do except this and growing balllds!???

    June 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.