Monks share ancient tradition with GJ
One gentle score with a fine metal point, and blue blended into white blended into pink. More than three days of intricate, grain-by-grain creation began disappearing in light sweeps of impermanence.
Geshe Jampa Phelgya traced a line through the east petal of the mandala’s lotus blossom, then circled the square table to trace a line through the west petal. The Buddha’s last words came to mind: “All things are impermanent, work out your salvation with diligence.”
Since Thursday, the geshe and five monks from Gaden Shartse Monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka State, India, had drawn the Manjushri Mandala in brilliant shades of sand inside a gallery at The Art Center in Grand Junction. Sunday afternoon, they swept their beautiful work into a small pile of dull green.
The creation of sand mandalas is a tradition in Tibetan Buddhism, and the six monks traveling on the two-year Sacred Earth and Healing Arts of Tibet Tour create them for many reasons: to share a message of compassion and peace, explained Jampa Lobsang, to illuminate the Buddha’s teachings and to raise funds for Gaden Shartse Monastery and its more than 1,600 resident students, teachers, scholars and spiritual practitioners.
The mandala the monks created at The Art Center represented the Buddha of Wisdom, Lobsang explained Saturday afternoon as Nyenda Bhutia, in his maroon robes, bent low over the mandala and tapped a fine swirl of white sand onto a smooth swath of emerald green sand.
To create the fine designs of the mandala, the monks poured colored sand into a narrow metal cone with a hole in the tip, and ran another metal cone over a textured spot on the cone with the sand.
Each element of the mandala had special significant, Lobsang explained. For example, the lotus at its center “represents even if it grows in muddy water, the lotus itself is very clean and pure,” he said. “Humans are born in the same situation. We can reach ultimate enlightenment even if we grow in muddy water.”
The rim of red, green, blue, yellow and white around the circular mandala represented the different colors of fire, Lobsang said, which can burn negative emotion and thoughts.
In some spots created just a few grains of tiny, intricate detail at a time, the mandala also represented, at the end, the impermanence of this life — its transience and fleetingness. And so, after a traditional ceremony, the Gaden Shartse monks swept their creation into a surprisingly small pile, the colors becoming blurred and dulled as they mixed in each sweep of the brush.
The more than 60 who attended the ceremony, circled around the square table in the Art Center gallery, each received a small bag of the blended sand. Lobsang Wangchuk, who was a monk for more than 20 years before disrobing two years ago and who is traveling with the Gaden Shartse monks, explained that the sand has special purpose: Putting it on the head of someone who is dying will ensure that they return as a human in the next life, he said. Sprinkled into the four corners of a home, it offers protection. Spread over a garden, it encourages life and growth, he said.
And as the last act in the mandala’s life, the monks stood on the bridge over the Colorado River at Eagle Rim Park and poured the remaining sand into the water to encourage purification of the environment, Lobsang said.
The sand caught in a diaphanous plume as it drifted away from the bridge and drifted down the water, floating inexorably onward.