RICHMOND, Va. –Local tattoo artist Amy Black had no idea back in the early 1990s, when she first glimpsed Tibetan monks traveling on an American tour, that she would eventually meet His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, or that she would bring a group of monks to visit Richmond and build a sand mandala that will be deconstructed and taken to the James River afterward.
Black has studied Buddhism since she was a teenager, but said she became serious about it a few years ago when her friend Jessica Pimentel, an actress on “Orange Is the New Black,” encouraged her to look more deeply into Tibetan Buddhism philosophy and application of meditation.
“Their kind, positive spirits and energy are unsurpassed and I have always loved their sand mandalas, they inspire me and bring such happiness and awe,” Black said, and added, “bringing a group like this to Richmond has been a big dream of mine for a while and I am ecstatic to see this dream finally coming true.
The Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery will create a giant, colorful, highly-detailed sand mandala over a five-day event which starts August 10.
The colorful grains of sand will take shape in a two-story, open room at the Virginia Holocaust Museum that has balcony seating available for great viewing.
”The acoustics are great and the staff is wonderful,” Black added.
It won’t be her first partnership with the museum. A few years ago, Black did an event there to raise awareness for the genocide in Darfur, Africa, and to give a louder voice to local Sudanese refugees.
“It was their largest attendance for an event back then, they definitely have the capacity for it and the technology,” she said.
At night the monks will lead a 20-minute evening meditation, which starts at 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.
There will also be two lectures during their visit, on meditation and symbolism of the mandala. Both are free to attend, with suggested $10 donation per person, for the monks.
“I think in today’s hectic environment everyone will enjoy the peaceful, creative and spiritual atmosphere the monks bring,” Black said. “The rare opportunity to meditate with these experienced people will be a treat.”
In June, Black was lucky enough to have a rare, unscheduled and brief meeting with the Dalai Lama. She was already in talks to host the monks here, and called the series of events “auspicious.”
“I think I am still pinching myself on that one,” she said of meeting his holiness. “I have immense respect for the Dalai Lama, he is working so hard to spread a message of peace, unity and compassion; you would never believe he is 81.”
When the VMFA re-opened after a major remodel and expansion in 2010, Tibetan Monks from the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, N.Y. spent a week creating a sacred sand mandala that was ceremoniously dismantled and taken to the James River.
WATCH: Tibetan Monks create a sacred sand mandala in Richmond, in 2010.
Hundreds came to witness the meticulous construction of the “spiritual battery.” Dozens joined a sunset procession down to the James River, playing music along the way, as the grains of sand were released.
“The mandala is made with powerful positive intentions and compassion, at the culmination of the event it is gathered together and spread into the world, which traditionally includes releasing it into a local waterway to let the prayers and good intentions release into nature for everyone,” Black explained.
She hopes that people will have many positive experiences from the event.
“I mostly hope it brings happiness to the city and opens it up to the wonder and education of this culture, and ways to peace of mind,” she said. “I think we all would like to know how to maintain something like that.”
Black is still accepting sponsorships for the monks. She said sponsorships start as low as $50. Sacred Waters Spa & Boutique has signed on as a $1,000 sponsor. People interested in sponsorships can email Amy Black.
Schedule of events for the Mystic Arts of Tibet Tour:
August 10: Opening ceremony at noon. Chanting and laying out the mandala. Then creation of the mandala will happen until 6 p.m., with public mediation and chanting at 6 p.m.
August 11: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., making the sand mandala. Public meditation and chanting at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m. there will be a public lecture on meditation.
August 12: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., making the sand mandala. Public meditation and chanting at 6 p.m.
August 13: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., making the sand mandala. Public meditation and chanting at 6 p.m. At 2 p.m. there will be a public lecture on “Symbolism of the Mandala.”
August 14: 10 a.m.to noon, viewing the mandala. Closing ceremony begins at 1 p.m. There will be chanting and dissolution of the entire mandala. Small packets of the sand will be handed out to the audience (it is not guaranteed all attendees will get sand, but they we will do their best).
Then the remaining sand will be deposited into the James River at the Canal Walk, at 3 p.m. at the Turning Basin. All the positive blessings of the event are sent out to the world in this ceremony.
The museum is located at 2000 E. Cary Street. There will be Buddhist items for sale and a public sand mandala for community participation.