When I learned that the Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery were taking residence in my community for a week, I knew I wanted take my children to watch these spiritual masters in practice. What I didn't know was that for five days straight, they would be creating a sacred sand mandala in the foyer of our performing arts hall. Big B, little b, Noni and I went to watch the opening ceremonies yesterday, where the monks blessed the site of the mandala and asked all beings present, visible and invisible, if it was a suitable place for their spiritual practice.
There were altars, near and dear to my heart, dedicated to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, and to the table upon which the mandala would be created.
The monks began their ceremony with a traditional chant, led by the chant master in the center. The Tibetans are the only culture on earth that incorporate the extraordinary vocal ability to create complete chords with their throats, transforming their bodies into amplifiers for their voices. It was a powerful experience to hear.
Once the mandala site was consecrated, the monks began drawing of the design on the base, or tekpu. One monk explained that the design is dictated by ancient Buddhist scripture and mathematics. The artists carefully measured and drew the architectural lines using beautiful instruments, rulers, compasses and white ink pens.Once the diagram is completed, colored sand will be applied to the mandala through the end of a metal funnel. The funnel will be slowly rasped in order to release a fine stream of sand. The artists will begin at the center of the mandala and work outward.
The children present had the opportunity to recreate this practice in a more familiar way. A local expressive artists' cooperative had stations set up for community art, including this simple mandala of circles.Big B also tried his hand at sand art, using the same tools the monks will use to create the mandala.
We plan to go back to view their progress each day until the mandala is completed. The mandala will then be destroyed as a metaphor of “the impermanence of life.” The colored sands will be swept up and carried in a processional to the ocean, where the waters carry their healing energies throughout the world.
When we left the opening ceremonies, I was seeing mandalas everywhere. I can't wait to go back and show Big B a stark difference from our fast-paced world, a lifestyle in which the practice, the discipline, the journey, truly is as important as the destination.
Sand-painted mandalas are used as tools for renewing the Earth and its inhabitants. In general, all mandalas have outer, inner and secret meanings and inflections. On the outer level, they represent the world in its divine form; on the inner level they represent a map by which the ordinary human mind is transformed into enlightened mind; and finally, on the secret level, they depict the perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind. The creation of a sand painting is said to inflict purification and healing on these three levels.