Lessons in the Sand

by Hannah L. Drake, UMass Magazine, Jan 18, 2006

Amherst, Mass. (USA) -- TWENTY-FOUR HOURS; 1,440 MINUTES. That's how much time Tibetan monks spent in the Fine Arts Center - www.umass.edu/fac/ - over the course of four days last November constructing a traditional white mandala. One by one they painstakingly placed millions of tiny grains of sand until they formed a work breathtaking to behold.

<< Photos by Elizabeth Unterman ’07

Constructing mandalas, part of ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is more than 2,000 years old. Each monk must learn how to construct mandalas as part of his training.

At the dismantling ceremony, the speaker told viewers that part of the spiritual purpose of the mandala is a lesson in selflessness and letting go. And how: At the ceremony, the monks sliced their hours of symmetrical work, blurred their geometrical creation, swept it into a pile, and tossed it into the campus pond in order to share the energies with the rest of the world.

Monks believe that this act reminds us that life is impermanent. It keeps changing from moment to moment, and it’s important for people to learn how to let go. The dismantling ceremony involves inviting the Buddhist energies to bless the mandala through powerful invocations.

Monks in prayer with deep, vibrating voices intone ancient ceremonial songs, inviting forces of goodness to bless the mandala with healing energies. This particular mandala, called the white mandala, brings energies for long life and success.