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Former Monk Creates Sand Mandala At St. Pete Museum

Using a metal tool called a chakpo, Losang Samten arranges brightly-colored sand into intricate designs at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.

"What I'm doing is called sand mandala, sand art,” Samten said. “This is such a very unique culture from Tibet, originally from India. But this design is over 2,600 years, dedicated for peace and healing."

The former Buddhist monk said he learned the art form while serving as an attendant to the Dalai Lama. 

The sand comes from all over the country - places Samten has visited. Bright blue sand in the middle of the mandala came from Siesta Key -- and later in the week --he'll add sand he collected from behind the museum.

As Samten funnels sand onto the chalked designs inside the six-foot-wide circle, Anna Glenn, a curator at the museum, watches.

"Hearing the raking sound that the tools produce and hearing, even in that really quiet space, hearing and seeing the sand being placed on the mandala is so powerful,” Glenn said.

Onlookers watch Samten as he creates the artwork in the conservatory of the museum. The design of this particular mandala comes from the Dalai Lama’s monastery, and Samten said the symbols are those of peace and healing.

On Saturday, Jan. 16, when Samten finishes the mandala, it will also come to represent something else – the impermanence of life.

Unlike bronzed Buddha statues displayed in the museum’s Tibetan and Nepalese galleries, this piece of artwork won't be kept in a case.

The sand will be poured into the waters of Tampa Bay during a prayer ritual to bless the local environment.

Lyn Dean, a friend of Samten's, said the process helps teach people that life is always changing and you have to learn to let things go.

"People get attached to this even when they're here, the beauty of it, the feeling of peace... then to watch him let go of it, to watch that process, they've told him, all of a sudden, it's much easier to let things go."

On Thursday, Jan. 7, the museum will show the film "Kundun,"which tells the story of the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Samten plays a role in the movie.