Two Vernerable monks from the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, NY, constructed a sand mandala at Indian Mountain School for three days last week thanks to the generosity of a past parent, Yukine Callaway P’10, who sponsored the event.
The Tibetan word for mandala is “kilkhor,” which means “center of the circle with exterior walls and surrounding environment.” A mandala is a visual prayer and it is also a symbolic universe. It may be represented by a three-dimensional model or more often two-dimensionally by means of a painted scroll, called a thangka. The two visiting monks, Tenzin Thutop and Tenzin Choklhang, used colored sand to construct a beautiful and intricate Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) mandala, which symbolizes compassion.
Buddha of Compassion
The purpose of the construction of this mandala is to encourage every one of us to generate a compassionate heart for the benefit of all sentient beings. It is believed that each grain of sand is charged with the blessings of the ritual process, and thus, it is felt that each of the million or more grains of sand laid down in a painting is charged with powerful blessing. Much spiritual energy is believed to be invoked while constructing the sand mandala.
Thutop and Choklhang worked for two and a half days on the design while students from both campuses watched, asked questions, and even got to try to create their own sand paintings using the monks’ tools and colored sand. When the design was complete, the monks performed a dismantling ceremony and swept the sand into an urn. A group of students, faculty, and parents traveled to the Housatonic River where the sand was thrown into the river to remind us of the impermanence of the world.
The monks of Namgyal Monastery have constructed sand mandalas in venues including Cornell University, Colgate University, University of Connecticut, Clemson University, Lehigh University, Cleveland Museum of Art, Brown University, University of North Carolina, and the University of Rochester among others. The monks of Namgyal Monastery Institute are cultural ambassadors from the exiled personal monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India.
More info on the Chenrezig Mandala:
Every aspect of the Mandala has meaning: nothing is arbitrary or superfluous. The four outer walls of the mansion are in five transparent layers, colored as white, yellow, red, green, and blue, representing faith, effort, memory, meditation, and wisdom (these five colors also represent the five dankinis). The four doorways, one in the center of each of the four walls, represent the Four Immeasurable Thoughts: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity and there are decorated with precious jewels. The lotus flower in the center of the Mandala represent the lotus family, one of the Buddha families that correspond to the five psychophysical components of a human being, and which purify specific impure states of mind; the Lotus family purifies passion into discriminating awareness. The white thousand arms, thousand-eyed Avalokiteshvara is standing in the center of the lotus flower, on a white moon disk. In the four directions are seated his retinue seated on white full moon disks. The deities arise from the unity of; the wisdom of emptiness and great bless of the principle deity Avalokiteshvara. Seated on the eastern red petal is the purified aspect of Hatred in the form of a blue deity Akshobhya, on the southern yellow petal is the purified aspect of Misery in the form of a yellow deity Rathasambhava and likewise, the purified part of Ignorance & Jealousy are represented by the white deity Vaivochana at the western and the green deity Amogasiddhi at the northern petal respectively. The central deity Avaloketishvara represents the freedom from attachment. The four colors in the four directions are the emanated light rays of the four deity retinues. The lotus itself symbolizes the mind of renunciation. To protect the residence from negative conditions, it is surrounded by a Vajra fence, which also symbolizes the continuous teaching of the Vajrayana (Tantric Teaching) by lord Avalokiteshvara. In the outmost part, it is circled with burning flames radiate with intense light are not only for protection but also to burn away or to get red of delusion and the dark nesses of the ignorance.
In general, the Mandala shows a method of bringing peace and harmony in our world, through genuine practices of the mind of Great Compassion, the Wisdom of Emptiness, and the meditations of Mandala with their respective deities. We can generate the respective qualities as mentioned and thereby bring about a positive change in this world of ours. For a practitioner who meditate on the Tantra of Avalokiteshvara, one would familiarize oneself with every detail of the Mandala and the deities within it, engaging in repeated exercises based upon visualizing the pure beings and pure environment which symbolized one’s own being and environment in purified, sublime form. Such exercises, carried out within the basic Buddhist framework of developing wisdom and compassion, bring about a profound transformation of the psyche. Just to glimpse the Mandala, however, will create a positive impression on the mind-stream of the observer, who for a moment is in touch with the profound potential for perfect Enlightenment, which exists within the mind of all beings.