There are no signs asking visitors to keep silent on the walls of the Coral Springs Museum of Art. Yet on a recent weekday, no one spoke as they watched Tibetan monks build a mandala with colorful grains of sand on the museum's floor.
Wearing orange and red robes, the Buddhist monks bent over their creation, called the Medicine Buddha Mandala, and carefully scraped the sand from long, narrow, metal funnels called chakpur to form the complex designs. A Tibetan mantra playing from a sound system mixed with the rubbing and clicking of the metal tools.
A few feet from the mandala, a monk held out his iPhone and showed photos of his family to Elise Orter, 64, who had been following the progression of the mandala since Tuesday, when the monks began designing it.
"They all have wonderful senses of humor," said Orter, of Coconut Creek. "They're all very congenial, very friendly, and unlike us who have lots and lots of belongings, their things are everything that's stilled in them. It gives me the opportunity to learn more about the Buddhists, not only their religion but their culture as monks. It gives you the opportunity to be a little bit more humbled."
The museum is a stop on the monks' Sacred Art Tour, which also includes cooking classes and butter-sculpture and coloring workshops. They will be working on the mandala every day until 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24, when they'll perform a deconstruction ceremony and swipe the sand from the mandala. Attendees will be able to take some of the sand home. The rest of the sand will be thrown into flowing water to dissipate its healing power, as mandalas are believed to have medicinal properties.
"The mandala is impermanent, and it's to show to the people, 'Don't attach to this,'" says Geshe Tsewang Thingley, 42, one of the eight monks on the tour. "Attachment is not good."
The monks hail from Drepung Gomang Monastery in South India. They're refugees and descendants of refugees who left Tibet after the Chinese invasion in 1950. They're using the tour to call attention to the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
The monks have also installed a small Tibetan market inside the museum, selling clothes, scarves, jewelry, singing bowls and other items. Funds raised during the tour will support the monastery. The monks end their day at 5:30 p.m., when they chant and pray while sitting around the mandala.
"It's doing art and working at the same time," whispered Verginia Wisniewski, 58, of Coral Springs. "And after all this work, dedication, time, they let it go. Nothing is forever. That's the beautiful part."
The Sacred Art Tour will appear through Sunday, Jan. 24 at the Coral Springs Museum of Art, 2855 Coral Springs Drive. Admission is $10; $6 for children 5-17. Workshops cost $5. Call 954-340-5000 or go to CoralSpringsMuseum.org.