Beautiful but transitory sand art teaches lesson, to spread blessing

BY ADAM WALLWORTH, Northwest Arkansas Times, November 14, 2006

Fayetteville, Arkansas (USA) -- Nothing is permanent, no matter how complex it becomes.

That is the lesson of the sand mandala, said Sidney Burris, director of the Honors Program at the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

That lesson is being taught by two Tibetan monks who are creating the sand mandala on the fifth floor of Old Main in conjunction with two courses being offered on Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy and Culture.

The mandala, which is taking about two weeks to complete, will be destroyed in a closing ceremony scheduled for 4: 30 p. m. Friday. After the mandala has been destroyed, sand will be given to those in attendance, with the rest to be deposited in the portion of Scull Creek that runs through Wilson Park.

The classes are being taught by The Venerable Geshe Thupten Dorjee and his student, Rinzin Dorjee, who are creating the mandala by drawing with brightly colored sand brought from India.

Geshe Dorjee, offered the explanation of the mandala from his lesson, which reads “ the sand mandala can revitalize our dreams of the sacred aspect of earth and its ultimate potential as a heaven.

“ Tibetans see the sand mandala itself as a sacred object, ” it continues. “ We believe that it is healing to the ordinary person and viewing it correctly can plant a genetic impulse toward enlightenment in the mindstream of any sentient being. ”

Burris said that as the progress continues on the mandala, the thought of its destruction is growing more and more difficult.

Just as there are many levels of meaning to the mandala, there different reasons for creating it, Geshe Dorjee said. In the broader sense, its creation, as well as the classes, is part of an effort to preserve the Tibetan culture, which is being carried on by the roughly 100, 000 Tibetans who are living in exile since China overtook their country, he said.

China began its invasion of Tibet in 1949, but it was not until 1959 that the occupation — with the forced exile of the Dalai Lama — was complete. Geshe Dorjee was born that same year, and his family fled Tibet in 1962.

Dorjee entered the Drepung Loseling Monastery in Karmataka, India at the age of 13, and was ordained as a Buddhist monk by the Dalai Lama in 1986. He said that one day he hopes that there could be a program on Tibetan culture and philosophy, which would enable him to take students to his homeland, which he hopes he will be able to see once again after becoming an American citizen.

The goal is not to spread Buddhism, Dorjee said, but to spread the culture and philosophy, which help people get more out of their own religions and lives.

“ I don’t care what their religion is or background they can be Christian, Catholic, or Mormon or maybe hippie, ” Dorjee said. “ I don’t care about it if they can learn something; not only that they can learn something, but just enjoy today. They can benefit the rest of their lives. What they can carry with them doesn’t matter their religion, where they go, they can share with their family members, they can share with their community. ”

Olivia Meeks, a junior political science / economics major in the honors program, praised the course, which she says goes beyond the standard lecture.

“ This has so much more going on than simply learning information. It helps you learn more about the human condition, ” Meeks said.

Meeks said that that the spiritual aspect of the class helps elevate the awareness of the students beliefs. The monks are not “ forcing Buddhism as a belief structure, ” she said, but the class is thought-provoking, more so because of the hands-on nature, which is not solely dependent upon text books.

“ It helps bring the spiritual side of life to the forefront, ” Meeks said.

Work on the sand mandala will continue this week between the hours of 9 a. m. to 11 a. m. and 2 p. m. to 4 p. m., on the fifth floor of Old Main, and is open to the public.