Sand Mandala at Golden Visions of Densatil: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

When my friend Anne Kirkup invited me to come to The Asia Society and have a look as the four Monks from the Drigung (Drikung) Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism create an amazingly intricate and beautiful sand mandala in conjunction with the opening of the Golden Visions of Densatil: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, I practically flew across the park. The position the monks had to maintain, squatting on the floor or perched on small stools looked like the set up for a chiropractor’s dream. And there they were in their saffron and crimson glory. Carefully, with the most delicate and directed touch, bringing color to the drawing, sometimes even blowing delicately to create the proper shape and all I can think of is that crazy cocaine moment in Annie Hall.

A Sand Mandala is a painting, a sacred cosmogram representing the world in perfect harmony. It may be used to focus attention, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation. The monks use small tubes, funnels, and scrapers, called chak-pur to form the mandala, representing the world in its divine form. 

There are thrills and there are thrills but nothing compares to shaking hands with the monks during their break. All smiles as they gathered in the hallway, I introduced myself and thanked them for their dedication and the beauty they brought to the day. When they offered their hands their grasp was so electric as to make my heart open and sing in ways I had never imagined. Joking and giggling and asking if I would like to be an assistant, their joy was contagious. I always marvel at the playfulness and joy I feel when in the presence of Tibetans.

I practically skipped across the park and back to work.And FYI,The destruction of a sand mandala is also highly ceremonial. The deity syllables are removed in a specific order, as is the rest of the geometry until the mandala is dismantled. The sand is collected in a jar which is then wrapped in silk and transported to a river (or any place with moving water), and released back into nature symbolizing the impermanence of life and the world. I would be delighted to be invited back to observe them, again and again.