Losang Samten: Tibetan Sand Mandala

For ten years (2010–2019), the Philadelphia Folklore Project presented this annual residency with National Endowment for the Arts/National Heritage award winner Losang Samten at our gallery at 735 S. 50th Street in West Philadelphia during the last week of April. The public was invited to stop in to observe and ask questions as Losang created an intricate image of the Tibetan Buddhist universe out of colored sand. On the last day of the residency, everyone was invited to participate in the dismantling ceremony, during which the sand is prepared for its return to nature.

One of the week-long residencies focused on the overcoming of obstacles through the creation of a Yamantaka Mandala, a cosmic blueprint of the celestial palace of the Tibetan Buddhist deity Yamantaka, who vanquishes death. This was the first time that this particular mandala design will be created here in Philadelphia.

Losang Samten has been sharing teachings of loving-kindness, joy, and compassion, as well as the path to enlightenment, for almost 30 years. Having escaped as a young child from his homeland of Tibet, in response to the Chinese occupation of the country, Losang lived and studied for over 20 years in the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India (the monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama). He earned the highest degree attainable at the monastery, equivalent to a doctoral degree in the West. He also became a master of ritual dance and of sand mandalas, and was the Personal Attendant to His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama prior to moving to the United States in 1988. Losang Samten is one of the mandala masters who created the first public sand mandala in the West in 1988. He is the spiritual director of several Buddhist Centers in North America, with a home base currently in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia is home to a vibrant Tibetan community, most members of which came to the U.S. as refugees. Their homeland has been under Chinese occupation since the 1950s. Tibetan cultural expression remains severely restricted there, and the practice of sand mandala-making is one of the ways in which they counter that repression—making a statement, even in the diaspora, about cultural rights and community cohesion.

Major funding for this residency came from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Related Publications