A group of eight Buddhist monks has left Shaftesbury to continue on their cultural tour of the UK. And the organisers of the trip say that locals were so hospitable, the monks would like to return to the town in the future.
The men are based in the Tashi Lhunpo monastery in South India. It was established when the order left Tibet, following the failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
Over the past week, the monks have been based in Gold Hill Museum’s Garden Room. Each day, they have been creating an intricate and vibrant tabletop pattern using grains of coloured, crushed marble. It’s called a Mandala and symbolises a palace that the monks invite a Buddha to stay inside. When the Buddha leaves, the design is destroyed.
David Holme works with the Salisbury-based trust that fundraises for the monastery. He said that most visitors were impressed that the pattern of shapes, symbols and icons was being created without notes or plan on paper. “They were in awe of the monks’ ability to memorise the text, to be able to produce this incredible design from memory. A lot of people looked at it and they could not believe that the monks can make such wonderful designs, simply from crushed marble,” David said.
This morning at 11.30am, every seat in the Garden Room was occupied and spectators were standing around the walls and spilling out in the hallway as the monks prayed and chanted. Then they destroyed their design by sweeping the coloured grains into a central pile.
After the ceremony, David and a group of volunteers used teaspoons to fill small plastic pouches with the sand. “The idea is they get a little memento and some of the merit from the monks’ work over these last six days, for a small donation,” said David. “The money will go back to support the monks in India. People get a chance to take these grains of crushed marble away with them which enables them to share.”
David said the monks were pleased by the level of interest in their work and culture. “I think the turnout this week has been amazing. I know, talking to the museum staff, that 1,500 visitors came in over the weekend. It’s just the sheer volume of people that have returned, day after day to see the Mandala being constructed. That is so pleasing,” David said.
David was delighted by the big turnout for the Mandala’s destruction. “It’s just lovely that this morning, with the weather, we had as many people as we could fit in. There were about 55 people watching. They had the pleasure to see the Mandala being destroyed,” he said.
David says the monks have received such a warm welcome they hope to return for a third visit to Shaftesbury. “Based on the feedback from us as well, we will definitely come back. The response from two years ago was amazing but even more so this year. Word has spread and it’s just lovely. We feel very comfortable in Shaftesbury. The hospitality we have been given by the Museum is just amazing,” David said.