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Monks Visit Holton

The halls, classrooms and dining hall were bustling as usual at the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, but a hush fell over students and teachers as they trickled in and out of a meeting room upstairs where three monks labored over an ancient Buddhist ritual.

Khenpo Tsultrim Tenzin Rinpoche, Drupon Thinley Ningpo Rinpoche and Lama Gyaltsan traveled from the Tibetan Meditation Center in Frederick to Holton-Arms to create a “compassion mandala.”

A mandala is artwork made of sand that takes days of work to create, with the monks painstakingly moving each grain of colored sand into the correct spot for the design. The beautiful finished product is then destroyed by sweeping the sand away.

Buddhism is a non-theistic religion and its practitioners aim for enlightenment and detachment from earthly things. The mandala is dismantled after many hours of work to demonstrate impermanence, which is central to Buddhist philosophy.

The art of creating a mandala requires years of training and is passed down by oral tradition. The compassion mandala, or Chenrezig Mandala, symbolizes sincere love and care for others without concern for fame, profit, social position or recognition. The concept of Chenrezig is an important part of Tibetan Buddhism.

“[The monks] spent four days creating this compassion mandala, and now that they’re done they will sweep it up and disperse it into a body of water,” explained Lisa Pence, director of the upper school. “While they’re creating the mandala, they’re in a state of meditation.”

Kristen Carter, public relations director for the school, said the “once-in-a-lifetime” visit was arranged by a parent with connections to the Tibetan community and an administrator who had seen a mandala at another school.

“The monks only do this a few times a year, so it’s a real honor for them to be here,” said Carter.

The Holton-Arms School is an all-girls school on River Road in Bethesda. It serves 659 students in grades 3 through 12. Carter said that the school’s mission is to educate students holistically with emphasis on rigorous academics, athleticism and spirituality.