Friday, November 19, 2010

Tibetan Monks Create a Sand Mandala

I decided to go see Tibetan monks create a sand mandala. I have always been interested in monks and sand mandalas even though I didn't know that much about them. From things I had read before attending this event I thought I knew what sand mandalas were made and destroyed for. To show that life isn't permanent. Come to find out, the sand mandalas, mean much more than that. Since I was so interested I decided to go several different days to see how much the mandala changes over a period of time.


When I arrived there was a monk giving an introductory speech. Then a group of monks came together, put on yellow hats, sang a song and played instruments. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. The voices of the monks hit each tone with lows and highs that flowed together with their random spouts of music. Their instruments were strange but made quite a fascinating noise. Later, after talking with a monk, I found out that it was in fact not a song but a praise or worship of sorts.

One monk used a sea shell to sprinkle rice and water in the air. I figure this ritual was to sanctify the making of a sand mandala and give each monk participating guidance and focus. Behind the monks were tables set with elaborate colors and ritualistic pictures and figurines.

After the monks were done with their worship, praise, and rituals, one monk announced that the monks would begin designing the mandala and then would start to add sand to the mandala in one hour. I was really surprised that so many people left after that. I decided to stay for three hours so I could watch the monks begin to make their mandala and so I could talk to a monk and ask him many, many questions.
This was some of their ritualistic materials.

I was surprised that when the monks began to sketch the basic outline for their mandala they used rulers, chalk, and regular carpenter tools. In fact, I was very surprised to learn that they even drew an outline for the mandala. For some reason, I always assumed they just free handed it all. I asked the monk many questions. I asked how they remembered how to draw such a complex picture. He responded by telling me that each monk memorizes a very thick book full of mandalas. They never forget their designs and they never look at a picture or a book for guidance.

Here the monks are designing their mandala. My camera is not dirty by the way, but, there are a lot of orbs in these two pictures. Some people believe orbs are spirits. I just thought it odd that they were only on these two pictures.


   The monks used white chalk and rulers to draw their design. It didn't look like much until they were done and wiped off all the chalk dust. The design was then clear and quite beautiful.

A while had passed before they were done drawing the mandala. I took a look and a feel of all the different colors of sand. One monk told me that the sand is powered marble, it was very soft to the touch. He explained that some monks have the special job of crushing the marble to make their sand.

A monk started to add sand right before I left. He used tools to sift the blue sand onto to the middle circle of the mandala. He then carefully outlined the circle in orange.


I went back Tuesday to see how much they had gotten done. I was quite amazed! The graph they had drew was just lines, circles, and squares. Now, they had detailed pictures and symbols all elaborately colored. It was very beautiful.


I was even more amazed when I went back on Thursday. They had completed so much.


To the right is a picture of the finished mandala. Below, the monks performed the closing ceremony for their sand mandala.

After a sand mandala is finished, it is destroyed for different reasons. I believe the main reason is to symbolize that life isn't permanent. Life is constantly changing and there is no reason to get so attached to material things. One monk explained to me that each mandala is a symbol for something. This particular mandala symbolizes medical or health. He further explained that only a higher being, such as Buddha, can create a mandala. No new mandalas are ever created. I never imagined the process of destroying the mandala was so ritualistic. I just assumed they would just unceremoniously sweep the sand off, throw it away, and start over. However, the monks performed their ritual, took the sand and poured it into the Cahaba River for blessings and healing.

Overall, I learned many things that I described above. A mandala is created as a spiritual pathway for a monk to follow. A Tibetan monks life differs greatly from that of an American person. A monk will spend many years studying in a monastery. Their main focus is to clear their minds from the human emotions of worry, anger and sadness. I believe their main focus differs from Americans in that Americans main focus is money and we often let our emotions control us when monks study and meditate to remain calm. While talking with one of the monks, I constantly found myself thinking about using their ideals and some of their basic mindsets in our culture. When I looking for a term to relate to this blog, reflexivity stuck out to me. While I was learning about the monks and the way that they devote their life to controlling their minds, I was also studying how to incorporate that into my own life. I really enjoyed studying about Tibetan monks and I think I learned a lot.

1 comment:

  1. You can tell that you and Logan were very interested in this topic. I am glad we had the opportunity to witness this ritual....