What Were Those Monks Doing on 'House of Cards'?

Frank and Claire Underwood have seen a lot of things on their political rise to the White House — murder, scandal, nosy reporters, the fall of Peter Russo, and that threesome with Meechum last season. But in House of Cards Season 3, the Underwoods seemed to be totally entranced by something new in Episode 7: Tibetan monks creating a piece of what looks to be intricate sand art as part of a cultural exchange. Every time Frank or Claire pass by them in the White House, they can't help but watch this art peacefully come to life. The monks' art is called sand mandala, and it's primary function is healing and purification.

That makes so much sense if you recall (or have already seen) the state of the Underwoods' marriage in Episode 7. Frank and Claire on quite a relationship rollercoaster in Season 3, and this time it has nothing to do with extramarital affairs or any external factors like past seasons. This year, the Underwoods are in a power struggle with each other and seeing how their own relationship is evolving. Episode 7 takes us on a journey from Frank and Claire in a fragile state to renewing their vows, but by the end of the season, we know there's still a long way to go for this couple.

Since the monks' mandala promotes healing, I wonder if the vow renewal and the Underwoods' temporary happiness came from the piece of art. Because as I've learned, everything in House of Cards means something. Here's how the sand mandala could've had an effect on the Underwoods.

How to Make a Sand Mandala

Unique to Tibetan Buddhism, monks first create a drawing from memory and then begin to fill it in with colorful sand. But this isn't like your summer camp sand art — grains of sand are carefully placed along the drawing with funnels, tubes, and scrapers over a few days. As the monks do this, they recite sacred chants to the divine spirits to meditative music.

Once it's completed, the mandala is blessed and the sand is swept away and disposed of in water in what's called a "Dissolution Ceremony." Yup, all that work is just destroyed like a sand castle at the beach. But it's all part of the healing process.

How a Sand Mandala Heals

The sand mandala is said to emit positive energy to the people who see them and the environment. Is it the chants to the divine spirits? The meditation? The sand? It's a little bit of all of it that brings the viewers peace and healing. This is why the Dalai Llama actually commissioned a mandala to be created after the Sept. 11 attacks at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. to essentially heal the world after such harrowing events.

How Did It Heal Frank and Claire Underwood?

Firstly, the sand mandala and its creation on House of Cards is there to show the passing of time. These pieces of art can take up to a month to create, so it's an easy way for us to see that the episode is covering a long period of time. The episode also begins with Frank and Claire being very chilly to one another in what's supposed to be a warm moment — the creation of their White House portrait. Frank goes on to embarrass Claire the Ambassador in a cabinet meeting, claiming that he won't take it easy on her just because she's his wife.

By the end of the episode, Frank and Claire reflect and try to go back to their old selves. Frank visits the FDR Memorial. Claire changes her hair color to brown, which is how her hair was when she and Frank first met. They eventually make up and Frank even gives Claire a photo of the sand mandala, before it was destroyed.

But while the Underwoods are desperately looking for a legacy in the White House (or in their marriage), this temporary piece of art shows that some beauty is only meant for this world for a short time.

Image: David Giesbrecht/Netflix