The Wheel of Life by Losang Samten
I've had the great pleasure of meeting the venerable Losang Samten a few times through a friend of mine and I learned that he was in town creating a sand mandala at the Philadelphia Cathedral (38/Chestnut). The mandala is part of this cathedral's pilgrimage for peace which culminates on February 3rd (my birthday!).
Losang is a Tibetan Buddhist mandala master, one of a handful of people in the world who knows how to painstakingly create one of these beautiful mandalas. He introduced the art to the U.S. in 1988. Ridged steel cones are used to create the designs. One rod is rubbed along the ridges of the other producing vibrations which slowly pour out the colorful grains of sand within. Losang has been making The Wheel of Life mandala for awhile now and has more information here. Every mandala is different, but with the same in concept. Losang decided to make this one especially unique by including the cathedral and references to Christianity within this mandala since it was being created within a cathedral. At bottom you can see Jesus crucified next to Buddha.
A closeup of Losang working on the mandala. He started working on this mandala on January 13th and it will take him a fortnight to complete. It will remain in place until February 3rd when it will be swept away in a ceremony to "be returned to nature in an acknowledgment of transience and impermanence" (via visitor's guide handed out at the door). Anyone can walk in and see him work Monday through Friday from 10a - 4p. He takes a lunch break (a man's gotta eat!) from Noon to 1p.
This event is not in the least solely for Buddhist scholars. I know a teensy bit, but learned a lot about the mandala there while listening to Losang speak and also several of his students who were on hand to answer questions as new groups of people arrived. Behind Losang in the above shot is one of his students explaining to some college-aged kids the different sections of the mandala.
One of the most amazing things about watching this mandala being created was that it was inside this gigantic cathedral (seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania at that)! Above, you can see the gigantic organ pipes, stained glass windows and the gilded frescoes in the apse of the cathedral.
The Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia, which Longsam founded in 1989, has moved to the cathedral. The group meets Sundays at 10a and is open to all.
The Philadelphia Inquirer was there over the weekend. Their writeup here.