Born in Tibet in 1953, Losang Samten escaped in 1959 and settled in India. In 1975, while studying in the Namgyal Monastery, he was chosen to enter a three-and-a-half year intensive training program in sand mandala painting, the ritual art form that originated in India 2,500 years ago and that has been practiced in Tibet since 600 A.D. The sand mandala is an elaborate design based on instructions in ancient texts, and is usually done collaboratively as part of a religious ceremony or initiation. Accompanied by recitation of prayers, chanting, and occasionally ritual dance, brightly colored designs are created. Then, in keeping with the Buddhist principle of impermanence, the finished product is dismantled and poured into a body of water. In addition to having artistic skills, the monks and artists selected for this training must be able to memorize 500 pages of sacred text. Only four of the 28 monks in Mr. Losang's class finished the course in the three-year period. For centuries, sand mandala painting had not been seen outside of monasteries, but in 1988, the Dali Lama selected Losang to create a mandala in a museum setting in the West. In 1989, he moved to Philadelphia where he became Spiritual Director of the Tibetan Buddhist Center. Today, he continues to teach and to practice mandala painting as one of an estimated 30 people in the world who are qualified to teach and demonstrate this spiritual art form.
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