Buddhist Symbol Prompts Cathedral Row

By Simon Evans, The Scotsman, April 14, 2005

Wiltshire, Scotland -- A row has erupted over a cathedral?s decision to display a piece of Buddhist art work. Allowing a mandala, the most admired symbol in the Buddhist religion, into Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire is to validate idolatry and go against God?s laws, a Christian group claimed.

The mandala will be exhibited in the cathedral when it hosts the city?s annual art festival next month.

It will be made out of millions of grains of coloured sand, laid painstakingly over a week-long period by monks from the Tashi Lhunpo monastery, seat of the 11th Panchen Lama, the second most important spiritual leader in Tibet.

The anicent geometric image represents the universe in a philosophy which involves attaining state of nirvana through meditation.

But missionary John Fergusson, 58, a member of Salisbury Church.Net, is opposed to the idea of a Buddhist symbol entering the House of God.

He said: ?On this mandala there appears to be a throne with snakes on it surrounded by eight deities. That is getting pretty close to idolatry.

?The Bible is clear in its instructions to us not get involved in idolatry. The promotion of another means of salvation will confuse people.?

The cathedral?s Canon Chancellor, Edward Probert, said: ?Based on confidence in our own faith, we are more than happy to promote greater understanding of other faith traditions.?

Spokesman Alun Williams added: ?The mandala is seen to represent wholeness, providing a model for the organisational structure of life itself ? a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.?

The mandala will be laid by the monks in the cathedral?s Chapter House between May 26 and May 31.

It will be on show until June 1 when, ?to symbolise the impermanence of all that exists, the sand will be swept up and poured into the river, where the healing energies are carried throughout the world?, the cathedral said.