Colorful creations, spiritual lessons from Buddhist monks

By MICHELLE MASKALY, Staten Island Advance, October 9, 2006

After days of making intricate design from sand, lamas destroy it in ritual rooted in meditation

New York, USA -- In a symbol of their belief that everything with a beginning must come to an end, an elaborate and colorful sand diagram was swept away in minutes yesterday by the same lamas who spent three days creating it.

Lama Pema Wangdak from Tibet, Lama Kunga Dhondup from Napal and Lama Guru Gyaltsen from India had started work Thursday on the medicine Buddha sand mandala, which was created in the spirit of impermanence, at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art on Lighthouse Hill. They finished it on Saturday.
Yesterday, before a crowd of dozens, the three quickly demolished the mandala, by gathering the sand into a pile and then dispersing it in water during a simple but complex ceremony that included them ringing bells and saying chants.

The medicine Buddha mandala is created for the healing of sickness and disease, as well as pain and suffering.

"It really reinforces my spirituality," said Jim Hennessy, a Great Kills resident who has been practicing Buddhism for more than 20 years and waited in a long line of people eager to take their envelope full of sand to place in a body of water they choose.

Creating the mandala is a spiritual journey of sorts, where the lamas meditate as they place the colorful sand in predrawn lines on a wooden board.

Buddhist practitioners place emphasis on the process of creating the mandala, rather than the finished product.

Mandalas can be visualized, painted, or constructed from clay, wood, precious metals, jewels, rice, flowers or even butter. Sand is considered an excellent material because of the great skill required to create the mandala's details.

"The world we live in we see as impure with all its imperfections," said Lama Pema, sitting on a chair next to the mandala, as he gave a brief talk on Buddhism and answered questions. "It's a pure world. A pure vision. When we make something out of nothing ... it reflects back to ourselves."

Adolf Rupp and his wife, Mary Beth, of Dongan Hills, had stopped by the museum yesterday with a friend who was visiting from Austria, unaware the dispersion ceremony was to take place.

"It was very interesting," said Rupp, who was not sure what he was going to do with his sand. "They are a different culture than ours. It's special that we saw it."

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