CEDAR FALLS - The intricate artwork contains centuries of sacred symbolism and meaning.

The creation in progress - a sand mandala - depicts a cosmic blueprint of the palace of a Buddhist deity, Yamantaka, known as the conqueror of death. The bold patterns and images emerging from the complex geometric design represent Buddhist values like compassion, and its philosophy about human existence.

Geshe Thupten Dorjee, a Tibetan monk and visiting scholar from the University of Arkansas, stands ready to explain the rich meaning behind the delicate work taking place this week in the lobby of the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls.

"It's the significance of the ultimate wisdom," Dorjee said.

Many who stopped by the work station Monday marveled first at the process. They watched in near silence, lips parting in awe, as a pair of Tibetan monks leaned over a table and carefully sprinkled and scraped colored sand over a chalk diagram. The monks, Gedun Kalsang and Jampa Thuten, are from the Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery in Minneapolis.

Abby Herzog of Cedar Falls marveled at the precision of the work. She went to see the mandala with her parents, Barbie and Brian.

"You know, they have to have a great amount of patience just to do that for hours," Herzog said.

The creation of the sand mandala coincides with the upcoming visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to Cedar Falls on May 18. The Dalai Lama is a renowned Buddhist monk and the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet.

On May 19, the sand mandala will be washed away to symbolize the transitory nature of life, a central tenant of Buddhism. This ritual is a practical way for people to experience detachment, which is key to happiness, said Yeshi Lama, a Tibetan graduate student at UNI.

"For a Buddhist, this is how we practice keeping ourselves from attachment," Lama said.

Jane Domeraski Hart drove up from Davenport to witness a mandala in the making, which she called a merging of art and religion.

"It's absolutely fascinating," Domeraski said. "I was an art teacher for so many years, and I have a deep appreciation of the process, which is so important with this type of art."

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