Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tibetan Monks Creating A Sand Mandala at Bastyr University

What better way to get back to blogging here than to share pictures from an amazing event that is happening this week at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India are creating a sand mandala all this week in the cafeteria at Bastyr. They began with an opening ceremony at noon yesterday to consecrate the site. I visited and took these pictures in the early afternoon today, and I can't believe how much has already been done.

Right after the opening ceremony the monks draw out the lines for the mandala design. The line-drawing process takes a few hours. I've never seen the opening ceremony, so I have to take their website's word on this. Then the colorful part begins.

From what I have read, nowadays the "sand" is dyed powered marble, but historically the sand for the mandalas was made from stones of different colors. Here are the sand colors being used at this mandala at Bastyr -

The monks use these long, skinny conical funnels called chakpur to scoop up sand and apply it precisely to the design. Here is their collection of chakpur -

By running a rod up and down a ribbed section near the small end of the funnel, the monks can make the sand flow out at a controlled speed. It is an amazing thing to watch, and the rubbing sound is mesmerizing in itself. Here's an "action" shot for you (ha ha) -

I've seen up to four monks at a time working on the mandala. My neck gets sore just thinking about working like this for long. I haven't paid attention to how long a given person will work at a time before taking a break longer than just refilling/changing colors. I did notice today that the monks have amazing flat-backed posture. Their heads and backs are in a straight line, reminding me of yoga. It looked like healthy/happy neck posture. But I do think my eyes would definitely go nuts working that closely!

My final picture is a close-up shot of part of the mandala -

I hope you can see the 3-dimensionality of this amazing work! The blending of the colors of sand in the larger areas is fascinating, too.

I will try to return in the next couple of days to take pictures of the progress of this mandala. If you are in the Kenmore area, you should check it out, too. It is in the cafeteria at Bastyr - just park somewhere at Bastyr, fill out a visitor's parking pass and put it on your dash, and ask at the office for directions to the cafeteria. The closing ceremony will be at noon on Friday. It is an amazing thing to experience the monks chanting and playing traditional instruments, and the first time I saw a closing ceremony I didn't know ahead of time that they would destroy the mandala as part of it. It is very moving to watch the product of all that careful work get swept up to symbolize the impermanence of all that exists. The first mandala I saw created and destroyed was at the Kirkland Performing Arts Center. Half of the sand was distributed to the people there for the ceremony (usually in tiny plastic zip bags or vials) and half was carried in a urn by a monk in a procession down to Lake Washington where it was poured into the water. I believe that the sand is to be poured into a body of water that flows to the ocean so that it can spread peace and healing to the world.

Here is a link to an amazing website that is presented by the Drepung Loseling Monastery and Richard Gere Productions - www.mysticalartsoftibet.org. It has terrific pictures and explanations of the mandala construction process.

One last thing that I learned today, thanks to the "magic" of the internet. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, 20 monks from this same monastery created a seven-foot-wide sand mandala in the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C. It was offered for the healing and protection of America. The website associated with that project is full of interesting information about sand mandalas and has a time-lapse slide show of the creation and destruction of a mandala. Check it out at http://www.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/online/mandala/