A Tibetan Buddhist monk is creating an incredible sand mandala at a nearby cathedral. AH and her husband DS had gone on Monday to check it out while DS’s father was in town. AH invited me to walk over with her and see his progress as part of our lunch hour this week. I convinced KS to come with us (she had never heard of mandalas before).
The monk creating the mandala is named Losang Samten. He’s very gracious, smiling for pictures while he works, and even showing visitors how his tools work and allowing them to give it a try. The tools are amazing. Two hollow metal funnels, no larger than a pencil. Brightly colored sand is scooped into one of them, and when the two funnels are rubbed against each other (they have ridges on the exterior), the friction pushes the sand out the tiny hole at the end. It takes a very steady hand and lots of patience and concentration to form the intricate details. Layers of sand are built up, giving the mandala a 3-D quality that is clearly evident when lighted from the side.
This particular mandala is the wheel of life (alternately the wheel of deluded existence) and is a series of circles within circles. Each section is also divided into smaller sections, with each one taking on different themes and representing different aspects of life from the mind (center), to life situations and conditions (middle ring), and finally human consciousness (outer ring). It is created from the center circle outwards, so as to not disturb the completed sections. When this mandala is “swept away,” the sand will be scattered in the Schuylkill River in the hope of bringing peace to the city.
Sand mandalas are beautiful. They are painstakingly created and then systematically destroyed. They are meant to be temporary, representing the transitional nature of life. I understand what they symbolize. I understand why they are created and then destroyed. It’s a reminder of how everything, even beauty and art, is temporary. But I always feel a pang of sadness when such an incredible work of art is removed from this world. But it doesn’t stop me from enjoying it while it’s here.