The Dalai Lama, Tibetan Monks, & ‘House of Cards’

In Episode 6 of the recently released third season of House of Cards, the Underhills and their presidential abode play host to a group of Tibetan monks. While these monks have no speaking lines within the episode, their presence plays a relatively subtle yet prominent part of the episode. Throughout the course of the episode, the Tibetan monks are repeatedly seen to be perpetually hunched over a canvass, of sorts. Upon this canvas, the monks are meticulously shaking out brightly colored sand in an effort to fill-in lightly sketched geometric lines. The colorful expression of discipline displayed in the new season of Houseof Cards is not a fabrication of Hollywood’s imagination — such art actually exists and is called a mandala.

Tibetan Monks Making Sand Mandala

At the risk of exposing too much of the show’s subplot, the Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art provides the following explanation behind the intricate work of art.

“Mandalas constructed from sand are unique to Tibetan Buddhism and are believed to effect purification and healing. Typically, a great teacher chooses the specific mandala to be created. Monks then begin construction of the sand mandala by consecrating the site with sacred chants and music. Next, they make a detailed drawing from memory. Over a number of days, they fill in the design with millions of grains of colored sand. At its completion, the mandala is consecrated. The monks then enact the impermanent nature of existence by sweeping up the colored grains and dispersing them in flowing water. “

Just as the monk’s sand mandala was not a fabrication of Hollywood’s imagination, neither was the featured presence of Tibetan monks in Washington D.C. The proclaimed leader of Tibetan spirituality, the Dalai Lama, is no stranger to the United States’ capital. Just recently, the Dalai Lama was in Washington for the national prayer breakfast hosted by President Obama.

Featuring Tibetan monks in an episode of House of Cards so shortly after the actual Dalai Lama was himself present in Washington D.C. arguably demonstrates Hollywood’s continued desire to use its fictional worlds to comment on our real world. It will likely prove no surprise to the more astute fans of the hit show, if contained within the plot, rests more social commentary. Veiled political commentary has often times proved useful in the nation’s political conversations. Such a notion seems to hold true, regardless of whether such conversations revolve around the Dalai Lama’s political situation or some other political issue addressed with the script of House of Cards.

[Featured Image credit to Slate, Body Image credit to Bartram’s Garden.]