Singapore Sand Art Sharing – Sand Mandala Artist – Losang Samten

Sand Mandala Artist – Losang Samten

One of only an estimated 30 people, worldwide, qualified to teach the traditional art of Tibetan sandpainting, Losang Samten (Tibetan: བློ་བཟང་བསམ་གཏན།, Wylie: blo-bzang bsam-gtan) is an American Tibetan scholar, sand mandala artist, former buddhist monk, and Spiritual Director of the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. Aside from having authored two books, Samten helped to create the first Tibetan sand mandala ever shown publicly in the West in 1988. In 2002, he was made a National Heritage Fellow. In 2004, he was granted a Pew Fellowship in Folk and Traditional Arts.

Early life

Born into a buddhist family in Chung Ribuce (Ü-Tsang, Tibet) in 1953[1], Samten spent two months crossing the Himalayas with his family to Nepal in 1959[2]. After arriving in Dharamsala, India in 1964 or 1965[2], Samten entered Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, taking the vows of a novice monk there in 1967[3]. He probably took full ordination at Namgyal in 1969[2].

While enrolled at Namgyal, Samten also studied the arts of ritual dance and sand mandala construction at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts[4]. (Both institutions are closely associated with the 14th Dalai Lama.) In 1985 he earned a Master’s Degree in Buddhist Philosophy, Sutra, and Tantra from Namgyal Monastery[5].


After fleeing central Tibet as a child refugee in 1959, Samten studied, debated, and practiced for more than two decades in exile[6] at Namgyal Monastery: since its establishment (in either 1564 or 1565) by the 3rd Dalai Lama, the personal monastery of all the Dalai Lamas.[7] In 1975, Samten began the intensive three-year program[1] which would ultimately enable him to construct traditional mandalas out of sand[5]. He earned the formal title Geshe (Lharampa?[disambiguation needed]) in 1985, having won a Master’s Degree in Buddhist Philosophy, Sutra, and Tantra: roughly equivalent to a Western academic institution’s Ph.D.[8] Samten then served the 14th Dalai Lama as his personal attendant from 1985–1988, after which, he moved to the US.[3][8]

In 1988, Samten was charged by the 14th Dalai Lama to come to the United States to demonstrate the sand mandala art form; marking the first time that a Tibetan mandala was constructed in the West, at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History.[5][7][8][9] Moving to Philadelphia in 1989, he joined Kelsang Monlam (from Drepung Gomang Monastic College,[citation needed] d. 2012, age 87), and eventually became the spiritual director of the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. Samten left monastic life in 1995.[5][3] He has established seven separate dharma centers in the U.S. and Canada, and currently resides in Philadelphia.

In 1997, Samten worked on the Martin Scorsese film Kundun – about the young 14th Dalai Lama – as religious technical advisor, sand mandala supervisor, and actor.

Samten has also written two books, including Ancient Teachings in Modern Times: Buddhism in the 21st Century. His history of Namgyal Monastery is written in Tibetan.

Mandala art

Since moving to the US in 1988, Samten has been commissioned to create works for numerous museums and institutions, including the Chicago Field Museum, Columbia University, Harvard University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution to name just a few. Samten has demonstrated the traditional practice of creating powdered mandalas at both the following museums:

  • the Albuquerque Museum of Art,
  • the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 1988[9],
  • the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco,
  • the Chicago Field Museum,
  • the Helena Art Museum in Helena, Montana,
  • the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,
  • the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology,
  • the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico,
  • the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno,
  • the Philadelphia Museum of Art,
  • the Phillips Museum at Franklin, Pennsylvania,
  • the Santa Barbara Art Museum, and
  • the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

and the following Colleges, Universities, and institutions of higher learning:


High-definition time-lapse video: Samten’s month-long construction of Kalachakra sand mandala in El Paso, by Steve Osborne, 2012.

  • Butte College at Chico,
  • Colby College, Waterville, Maine, in 2005[2],
  • Columbia University,
  • Georgetown University,
  • Harvard University,
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009[10],
  • New York University,
  • Rhode Island School of Design,
  • Smith College, Massachusetts,
  • State University of Louisiana at Shreveport,
  • Temple University,
  • Trinity College of Hartford, Connecticut,
  • University of California, Santa Barbara,
  • University of Chico, California,
  • University of Columbus, Ohio,
  • University of Delaware, Pennsylvania,
  • University of El Paso, Texas in 1997 and 2012,
  • University of Nevada, Reno,
  • University of Pennsylvania,
  • University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, and
  • University of Arizona, Tucson.[8]

In 2002, Samten was made a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts.[11] In 2004, he was granted a Pew Fellowship in Folk and Traditional Arts[4].


About sanddreamer

Lawrence Koh – International sand art virtuoso and multi-disciplinary artist specialized in both the visual art and the performing art. Utilizing an awe-inspiring combination of sand, music and light, Lawrence created countless stories as a sand artist during his local and international performances as well as prestigious events such as award ceremonies, official launch, grand opening, dinner & dance, festive celebrations, meetings, seminars and anniversary celebrations. Lawrence’s performance is often graced by foreign delegates, local VIPs and international guests; while also received positive responses from notable guests such as the Former President of Singapore Mr S.R Nathan, Mr Teo Chee Hean, Minister Lee Yi Shyan, Minister Heng Swee Keat, Dr Ng Eng Hen, MP Tin Pei Ling, International Model Sonia Couling, Dr Chan Mei Yoke, MP Low Yen Ling and Film Director Eric Khoo. Some of Lawrence’s notable performances: MSH International Official Thailand Opening, Gourmet Abu Dhabi, Platts Top 250, Monetary Authority of Singapore Inter Central Bank Games, OCBC Regional Seminar, United Engineers 100 Years Anniversary, Shell Groundbreaking Ceremony, National University Health System Charity Gala Dinner at Gardens by the Bay, Lee Ming Wei’s Luminous Depths Installation Opening the Peranakan Museum, NTUC U Picnic, People’s Association’s New Year Countdown, Singapore Turf Club’s SIA Cup, BCA Awards, Institute of Mental Health 85th Anniversary, Kajima 25th Anniversary, Zurich Global Life Awards, BCI Asia Awards, Daido (Japan) 110th Anniversary Commendation Ceremony and many more. Some of Lawrence’s previous clients: Mandarin Oriental, McDonald, KFC, Pizza Hut, Panasonic, Singapore Armed Forces, National Heritage Board, Singapore College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, National Arts Council, Lian Beng Group Ltd, 7 Eleven, Abbott, Daikin, Melchers, Singex, National Library Board Singapore, Singapore Expo, Bosch, Ministry of Education, Sentosa, Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, GlaxoSmithKline, National Healthcare Group, Sonangol, Mediacorp. Being a celebrated artist in Singapore’s entertainment and art scene, Lawrence’s career spans across theatre productions, cultural fusion performances, short films, corporate videos, television programmes, television commercials, documentaries and live concerts. Lawrence was given the honour to have a special collaboration with the renowned Bhaskar’s Arts Academy during their major theatre production “CHAKRA”, featuring a captivating fusion of Indian dance, ballet, live Indian orchestra and sand art. The performance was graced by the presence of former president Mr. S.R Nathan and the tickets sold out completely; receiving standing ovation from the audience. Under National Arts Council’s request and support, “CHAKRA” was restaged once again at the Toa Payoh Amphitheatre with Lawrence being part of the National Arts Council’s “Arts for All” programme. Lawrence’s collaboration journey with Bhaskar’s Arts Academy also includes “Nalanda” a multi-disciplinary theatre production at the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay and “Ramayana” during the Diwali Festival of Lights Performance in Wellington, New Zealand. Lawrence captivated the audience once again with veteran storyteller Kamini Ramachandran and live fusion musicians (keyboardist Serene, bansuri flutist Ragha and table player Kumaran) during two sold out performances of “Forest Fables” – a multi-disciplinary English theatre production presented by Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. Under the invitation from Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, Lawrence performed his very own live concerts with the amazing “Tze N Looking Glass Orchestra” with talented string ensemble from ACS Independent during “Celebrate December 2013”. The performance was extremely well-received with full house for all three shows. Amidst his sand art journey, Lawrence and his sand art has received numerous article features and write-ups on Straits Times, Lian He Zao Bao, Business Times,, 8 Days Magazine and Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery’s “Awaken Magazine”. Lawrence and his sand art were also featured extensively on Singapore’s television programmes. He was featured as a guest artist on Mediacorp Okto channel’s “Art Bites” and “Arts.Music.Performances”; in which he performed his original sand art with DJ Shawn Fluctuate. Subsequently, Lawrence’s sand art also caught the attention of Mediacorp’s “Artless Travelled Season 2” – an award winning international documentary about the lesser seen art forms of Asia, with Lawrence and his performances being featured on the show as one of Singapore’s unique art forms. Other television involvements of Lawrence includes the Starhub E-City’s television commercials as well as Mediacorp Channel 5 and Suria Channel’s “Remembering SARS” - a telemovie that featured Lawrence’s sand art portraying the stories of Singapore’s battle against SARS. With great privilege, Lawrence’s original sand animation tribute film to Singapore was featured on Vasantham Central’s Tamil News, Channel NewsAsia’s official Facebook page, as well as Channel NewsAsia’s “Singapore @ 6” and “Singapore Tonight”. On top of that, Lawrence was also invited to be the guest artist on Channel NewsAsia’s “AM Live!” and “Artyfacts”. He is also honored to be invited to perform on Mediacorp Suria Channel’s “Fiesta Muzik” – a prestigious live telecast music concert featuring popular artists from Singapore and Indonesia. Mr Aubeck Kam, Singapore's Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and Dr Basuki Yusuf Iskandar, Indonesia's Secretary-General of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, attended “Fiesta Muzik” as the Guests-of-Honour. “Fiesta Muzik” was broadcasted as a live telecast on Singapore and Indonesia’s TV channels with Lawrence’s performance receiving excellent responses.
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