Tibetan Nuns will Build Mandala of Compassion at Trinity College

The Buddhist Channel, August 27, 2012

Six Buddhist Nuns from Nepal also will participate in College Convocation

HARTFORD, CT, (USA) -- Six Buddhist nuns from the Keydong Thuk-che Choeling Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, have arrived in preparation for building a mandala, a sand painting used for prayer, contemplation, and healing, at Trinity College.

Before the mandala making gets underway, however, the Keydong nuns will appear at the College’s convocation on Thursday, August 30 at 2 p.m., at which they will recite “Words of Truth,” a prayer composed by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet. The convocation will take place on the main quadrangle, and is free and open to the public. (The rain location is the Koeppel Community Sports Center, 175 New Britain Avenue.)

The Keydong nuns are among the first Buddhist female monastics to learn and practice the sacred art of the sand mandala, an ancient tradition once reserved for monks. This marks their third appearance at Trinity, having been the first Buddhist nuns to create a sand mandala in the United States in 1998. They returned to Trinity in February 2005 to build asecond mandala.

In September, on a day deemed auspicious on the Tibetan calendar, the nuns will start creating a third mandala using brightly colored sand they are bringing from Nepal. The mandala will be built in the Austin Arts Center’s Garmany Hall.

In the Himalayan valley where the Keydong nunnery is located, the monastic women collect nuggets of white marble that they crush, wash, and dry in the sun. The sand is divided and dyed in five colors—red, blue, yellow, green, and white—representing the five “Buddha families,” which contain multiple levels of meaning.

The mandala will take one month to complete, and will measure approximately eight by eight feet, according to Ani Ngawang Tendol, a Keydong nun who serves as the group’s leader and interpreter. (“Ani” is the honorific prefix given to a nun’s name in Tibetan Buddhism, and means “Nun.”)

Both graphic and abstract in design, the intricate forms and spiritual symbols of a mandala can be “read” by the initiated. At the center is a square diagram of a palace inhabited by an enlightened celestial being. In this case, it is Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist deity of compassion. Multiple circles surround the deity’s palace.

The exhibit, “Mandala: The Sacred Art of Sand,” will be open to the public on Friday, September 14. Visitors should be prepared to take off their shoes before entering Garmany Hall.

That day, public viewing of the mandala making will be at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and will be followed by a keynote lecture at 4:30 p.m. in the adjacent Goodwin Theater. Rinchen Dharlo, president of the Tibet Fund and former North American representative of the Dalai Lama, will introduce the lecturer.

Entitled “Tradition Changing Women, Women Changing Tradition: The Interface of Tibetan Nuns and the Sacred Art of Sand Mandala Making,” the lecture is, in part, an eyewitness account by Melissa R. Kerin, who first observed the nuns in Nepal in 1993 while a student at Trinity. She iscurrently assistant professor of art history at Washington and Lee University.

Beginning Saturday, September 15, observers are welcome to witness the mandala making on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. through October 13. There will be occasions when Garmany Hall will be closed for the nuns’ religious observances, so those travelling from a distance are encouraged to call ahead at             860-297-2199      .

On Sunday, October 14 at noon, the nuns will ceremoniously dismantle the mandala and disperse the sands into the Connecticut River at Charter Oak Landing in Hartford, a gesture signifying the impermanence of life. The public is invited to observe these rituals. School buses on Summit Street, adjacent to Trinity’s Mather Hall, will provide free round-trip transportation. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

A concurrent display of sacred thangkas and contemporary painting from Tibet, on loan from local private collections, will be shown in Garmany Hall. Related concerts and films, all free to the public, will take place in the Goodwin Theater and Cinestudio.

“Mandala: The Sacred Art of Sand” is sponsored by Trinity's Office of the President; Office of the Dean of Faculty; Hy C. and Micki Dworin Fund for Asian and Eastern European Studies; Austin Arts Center Guest Artist Series; the Center for Urban and Global Studies; and The O'Neill Asia Cum Laude Endowment. The project is supported by 26 departments and programs at Trinity.

For more information about the Keydong Thuk-che Choeling Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, please visit: www.keydong-thukche-choeling.org<http://www.keydong-thukche-choeling.org>. For more information about the events, please visit: http://www.trincoll.edu/arts/mandala.