Quick, before it’s gone: An ancient art speaks to the fleeting present

At a time when rancorous battles over the Supreme Court, midterm elections, and kneeling athletes are dividing friends and families, Losang Samten is releasing healing energy into an angry world, if only for a moment.

A former Tibetan Buddhist monk, Samten is a master of the andala, a spiritual sand painting whose creation is part meditation, part art. Since Sunday, he and apprentice Soo Kyong Kim have spent five hours each day sprinkling grains of sand in 30 colors onto a 5-foot-by-5-inch glass table at the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center in Northern Liberties. Ever so slowly this week, an image has been emerging of the Green Tara, a beloved Buddhist deity, the mother-savior-protectress, who represents wisdom and compassion.

“There is a lot of fear, concern, anger, and hatred,” Samten, 66, said during an interview at the center’s new headquarters on Marshall Street, where he is spiritual director. “We want to make peace.”

By Sunday, when the piece is finished, he and Kim, a 53-year-old musician, will have surrounded the Green Tara with 21 other goddesses.

TIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Spiritual director Losang Samten fills a chak-pur tool to create a sand mandala.

Then, Samten said, they will “dismantle” it.

The mandala (Sanskrit for circle) is a spiritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism that represents the universe. It is a collection of geometric shapes that emanate from the center of a circle, and typically contain depictions of religious iconography, including deities and temples. Creating one is a meditative practice.

They are using two metal cone-like instruments called chak-pur to pour the sand onto a grid drawn by Samten. One cone, filled with the sand, distributes it onto the table through a tiny hole, while the other cone, which is empty, is used to tap on the sand-filled one, an action that regulates the amount and speed at which the grains are dispensed.

Samten and Kim are working on the mandala from 1 to 6 p.m. daily through Saturday, and the public is invited to watch. On Sunday at about noon, those gathered at the center will scoop up the delicately placed grains in a ritual that signifies life’s impermanence. They may take home envelopes of sand as a blessing, while leftover grains that once depicted a goddess will be dumped in a body of water to bless the environment.

A large picture of the Green Tara hangs on the wall of the center, a rendering that Samten has had since shortly after moving to America in 1988.

Born in Tibet, Samten fled China at 5 with his family in 1959 during the Communist takeover. The family settled in India, where Samten entered the exiled Dalai Lama’s Namgyal Monastery. He served as an assistant to the Dalai Lama and began learning the sacred art of the mandala as a teenager.

He was sent to the U.S. to spread the gospel of the mandala in 1988 when New York writer/artist and Buddhist practitioner Barry Bryant asked the Dalai Lama to send someone skilled in the practice. Samten settled in Philadelphia after he createda mandala at the Penn Museum and a group of professors pleaded with the Dalai Lama to allow him to stay.

Since then, Samten has completed hundreds of mandalas around the world, at universities, museums, schools, and prisons, with the longest taking five weeks. Coming up are mandalas in California, New Jersey, Brazil, and in Philadelphia at the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter, where Samten is a teacher in residence. He gave up being a monk 20 years ago because he was “more comfortable” as a lay teacher in his adopted home.

For the last decade, Samten has done virtually no mandalas at his own center because its 80 members have been nomads for the last 27 years, renting spaces in museums, churches, and schools.

In 2010, the community purchased its present building, on a then-decrepit block of Marshall Street, and transformed it into a quiet sanctuary for meditation. The Green Tara is the second mandala Samten has done since moving into the new headquarters, on a now-gentrified block in transition.

TIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Spiritual director Losang Samten creates a flower on the mandala of the Green Tara. TIM TAI / Staff Photographer

When he’s creating, Samten says, his mind is empty. There is only a mental quietness. It is a skill that Kim hasn’t yet mastered. When she’s creating a mandala, her mind is racing“I’m thinking about all sorts of things, like if the line of sand” she’s sprinkling on the mandala is a straight one, Kim said.

Samten has slowed his mandala creation, in part, because of age — his eyes, he said, aren’t want they used to be — but also because he is busy with other projects. He leads retreats and workshops and runs the center, which is frequented by people of all faith traditions.

He worries about the future of sand painting that right now flourishes only in India. Kim gives him hope. A violist, music teacher, and graduate of Julliard, she has been a member of the center for 20 years and studied with the mandala master throughout.  Her apprenticeship became official last year as part of a program with the Philadelphia Folklore Project.

“It’s art. It’s beautiful,” Kim said, “and I want to keep up a tradition that is fading.”

Joy Holiday Sign Christmas Wall Art – DIY Projects

Christmas decorating has always been a great challenge for me, and sometimes my family teases me about being “the grinch” and there’s always a story or two about how I’ve taken down the tree on Christmas Day, while there were still guests in the house. I love Christmas. But we have always had a very small home – going from 1000 square feet to 800, and in the dead of cold, long, dark winter in Alaska, with the kids trapped inside, it gets even smaller. I feel claustrophobic with just the toys not put away, or if there is a project going on on the dining room table.

So I always keep my Christmas decorating to a minimum, and only have it out for about a week. The other great challenge with Christmas decorating is we live 350 miles from a Target. There is some shopping about 100 miles away, but with a one year old having to ride four hours in a car seat, trips to “town” are rare, and so full of necessities like doctor appointments, business needs and grocery shopping that I rarely just get a chance to shop for things like clothing or home decor. This is the big reason why I do so much DIY.

This year, my Holiday mantle is true to who I am right now – simple and DIY.

In a small space, wall decorating is your best option.  A few fun holiday pillow covers bounce the Holiday spirit around the room, and is just the right amount of Christmas decorating for our small space.

It was the Joy sign that made everything come together for me this Holiday season.  It is of course DIY.

For tools I used my Ryobi AirStrike Crown Stapler with 1″ long staples.  A brad nailer or even screws or a hammer and nails would do the trick too.

Whenver you use nails or staples, make sure you use glue.

I had some leftover strips of 1/2″ plywood that were 8″ wide and about 40″ long.  I simply glued and stapled to some 1x2s on the back.  If you don’t have leftover plywood, anything from cedar fence pickets to new plywood ripped into strips 8″ wide to a full plank of plywood would do the trick.  At this point, I was just using scraps to create an economical canvas for me to work on.

The plywood was reclaimed from some other project, and had this gray tint to it.  A gray wash paint treatment or gray stain would give you a similar look on new plywood.

I used a 1×2 to create my J and Y letters, leaving a 1x2s width around the outside, and then the letters themselves are 1×2 width wide.  The I just painted inside the letters with white paint.  

Then I just added a nail and hung a wreath on the nail (wreath is from Home Depot). My little niece helped out and was quite proud of the finished project too.

I love it, and hope you do too!

Want more Holiday Mantel inspiration?

Jen Woodhouse hosted an amazing blogger mantel tour this year – check out all the mantels below!

I’m so proud and humbled to be a part of this blog tour this year.  Aren’t they all just beautiful and inspiring?

Well, like you, today is going to be a busy one, with last minute gifts to wrap and a family Christmas party, so I better get to it.  

PS – Don’t forget to pin this wood Joy sign for next year!

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo: Vote out politicians only “offering prayers” after shootings

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo slammed elected officials for inaction on the state and federal level in response to repeated shootings at schools across the country. His comments come in the wake of the latest school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas which left 10 people dead.

  • Transcript: Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on “Face the Nation” 

Appearing on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, Acevedo said that political leaders are failing to heed the will of the voters when it comes to gun regulations and reforms.

“Let me tell you, people at the state level and the federal level in too many places in our country are not doing anything other than offering prayers,” Acevedo said. “We need to start using the ballot box and ballot initiatives to take the matters out of the hands of people that are doing nothing that are elected into the hands of the people to see that the will of the people in this country is actually carried out.”

Acevedo added that “local governments are starting to make a difference” by enacting their own reforms. 

“I think that the American people, gun owners — the vast majority of which are pragmatic and actually support gun sense and gun reform in terms of keeping guns in the right hands,” Acevedo said. 

Acevedo posted on Facebook that he had “hit rock bottom” and “shed tears of sadness, pain and anger” over the Texas killings. The post went viral in the days after the shooting.

On Sunday, he said that one policy to consider would be stronger laws mandating proper security of guns in private homes. According to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the suspect used a shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver which his father owned legally. Abbott told reporters that he didn’t know whether the father was aware his son had obtained the weapons.

“If you have firearms in your home and you do not secure them and you don’t secure them in a manner that can preclude someone from grabbing them and taking them and carrying out this carnage, [there] is a criminal liability that attaches,” Acevedo suggested. 

He added, “I believe that anyone that owns a firearm that doesn’t secure it properly [and it] ends up in the wrong hands and used to kill innocent people, that that should carry some significant consequences. We need to think about that on the national level across this country.”