DANBURY — The chants of the Buddhist monks — with their eerie bass throat notes, the rhythmic patterns that evolve as the chant progresses, the interjected clash of cymbals — echoed through the halls of the Westside Campus Center of Western Connecticut State University on Monday.
The chant faded and ended. The vase of peacock feathers, the candles, the bowl of rice was put away. The chanting had chased any anger and negativity out of the room.
“Now the hard work starts.”
That work will consist of creating an intricate mandala — the Compassion Mandala. A sand mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of circles made from colored sand.
The seven maroon-and-gold robed monks, who are Tibetan exiles living in the Drepung Gomang Monastery in India, will continue their work from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.
Their work is a tribute to the visit of the Dalai Lama, who will speak at WestConn on Thursday and Friday. The monks will take a leave from their work those days to chant for the Dalai Lama.
“It is such an honor for them,” Simone said.
The art of sand painting goes back deep into past millennia. But the Tibetan Buddhist tradition took this decorative art and imbued it with sacred meaning.
“Each color, each grain of sand has meaning,” Simone said.
The Compassion Mandala, with an ornate lotus flower in its center, is named Chenrezig, the Tibetan bodhisattva of compassion — the paramount religious value of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Tibetan people claim ancestry from Chenrezig; his spirit has been reincarnated in each of the dalai lamas.
To make the mandala, the monks fill small, pointed cylinders with sand. Then, by rubbing that cylinder with another, the vibrations allow the sand to escape onto the mandala surface.
The soft scrape of metal on metal had its own hypnotic rhythm Monday, as if a swarm of cicadas were singing along to accompany the monks’ work.
“The faster we vibrate the tubes, the faster the sand comes out,” said Tenzin Dekyong, one of the monks. “The slower we vibrate it, the slower it comes out.”
Dekyong said that while sand for sand painting can be purchased in the United States, much of the material the monks are using came from India, where it was washed, dried, sorted by the size of the grains, then hand dyed.
Their work will be done Friday. After the Dalai Lama leaves the campus, there will be a dissolution ceremony at 12:45 p.m. when the monks will sweep the sand off the table — a symbol of the impermanence of the world.
Then the monks will have a procession to the Ives Concert Park on campus, where they will dissolve the sand in the lake.
Thus, the compassion of the mandala will be part of the university.