Six Tibetan Buddhist monks from a monastery in northern India are visiting the Evansville area for the week as part of a nine-month, nationwide tour.
The monks live at the Tashi Kyil Monastery, but they're in the United States to share Tibetan culture and Buddhist teachings.
One way they share that culture is by making a sand mandala.
"Mandala is actually a Sanksrit word," says Lobsang, one of the monks. "It means like circle or surrounding. It is the palace of God or deities, where they live."
To make a sand mandala, a monk rubs a stick across a metal funnel, called a chak-pur. Brightly colored sand trickles out of the chak-pur into various designs.
Lobsang says traditional mandalas feature Tibetan Buddhist symbols, but the one the monks are making this week at a yoga studio on Evansville's east side is a bit different.
"This is not a sacred mandala," Lobsang says. "It’s what we call a world peace mandala."
The World Peace Mandala is arranged in rings. The middle circle depicts symbols representing many of the world’s largest religions. The inner circle tells a Tibetan story called "Four Perfect Friends" while the outer circle portrays the eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism.
The design was created by Arjia Rinpoche, abbot of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, when the center hosted the Dalai Lama. The Bloomington, Indiana, center serves as the monks' home base when they tour the U.S.
Lobsang says the mandala is supposed to encourage people of all religions to live peacefully together in loving-kindness and compassion.
A group of monks from Tashi Kyil has made the same mandala design during several visits to the Evansville area since 2011.
Cecile Martin coordinates those local visits. "It's just something positive to add to the community of Evansville, to have them here as often as we can," she says, adding that it gives a chance for local people to learn more about another culture.
During their visits, the monks often engage in interfaith activities. Martin says she's seen people of many different religious backgrounds engage with the monks, including watching them make the mandala. Lobsang says people can learn about meditative practices by watching the monks create the mandala because the process itself is like meditation.
The mandala is instructive in other ways, too. The monks' stop in Evansville ends Friday, when the monks will destroy the mandala by dumping it into the river. Lobsang says the mandala's destruction will serve two purposes.
The first is to demonstrate the Buddhist teaching of impermanence, that nothing stays around for ever and that even the most beautiful things will ultimately be destroyed. The second is to show the way that peace can flow throughout the world.