Compassion, Universal Responsibility and the Resolution of Our Conflicts in a Sacred Grain of Sand

The Mandala – Tibetan sand painting – is a quintessential expression of Buddhist art constructed from dyed sand particles, and a centuries-old visual art form. It represents rich and rational Buddhist philosophy centered on compassion, importance of reality and universal responsibility.

During the Emerge 2014 event, the Mandala will be created by Ngawang Lama – a Tibetan Buddhist monk we’re flying in from Mustang, Nepal – and Geshe Champa, currently in Phoenix. Mr. Ngawang is a senior monk of a monastery in Nepal, who also runs the Lo Mustang Foundation. Both Ngawang and Geshe are trained in all the traditional arts and teach ceremonial arts for apprentice monks. Mr. Ngawang has created countless sand Mandalas all over the world. Geshe Champa will provide commentary during the process. The Mandala for Emerge 2014 will be brought to life in the ASU International Artist Residency Program Gallery at Combine Studios for the weekend of March 7 – 9. Combine Studios is at 821 North Third Street, Phoenix, in the arts district near the ASU Downtown Campus – a few feet from the Emerge carnival tent.

There are different types of Mandalas. Some symbolize compassion as a central focus of the spiritual experience; some situate wisdom as the central focus; others emphasize courage and strength in the quest for knowledge. A common thread across all of them is the symbolic archetypes of the Buddhist depiction of the intricacies of the mind, a vision of the ideal world, and an altar to confer blessings. The actual days-long process of creating the sand Mandala during Emerge 2014 will be a demonstrative center of the Carnival of the Future, allowing for observation, elaboration of humanities concepts through arts and culture, and reflection on “me and my future.”

Millions of colored sand grains will be painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform forming an intricate diagram (with mathematical precision) of the enlightened mind and the ideal world. In general, all Mandalas have outer, inner, and secret meaning. On the outer level they represent the world in its divine form; on the inner level, they represent a map by which the ordinary human mind is transformed into the enlightened mind; and on the secret level, they predict the primordially perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind. The creation of a Mandala is said to purify and enhance healing on all three levels.

The most common substance used in the creation of the Mandala is colored sand which is ground from stone. When finished, to symbolize the importance of the transient nature of life, some of the colored sands of the Mandala will be swept up and poured into the Salt River, the waters of which will carry the healing energies throughout the world. Some of the sands will also be shared among the visitors.  

Creation of the Mandala will begin with an opening ceremony. Monks consecrate the site and call forth the forces of goodness through chanting mantras accompanied by flutes, drums and cymbals. The construction of the Mandala begins with the drawing of the design on the base. The artists measure and draw the architectural lines using a straight-edged ruler, compass and ink pen. The Mandala is a geometric pattern showing the floor plan of the sacred mansion. Once the diagram on the platform is drawn, in the following days millions of colored sand grains are painstakingly laid into the platform by the monks. The colored sand is poured onto the Mandala platform with a narrow metal funnel called a “chakpur” which is scraped by another metal rod to cause sufficient vibration for the grains of sand to trickle out of its end. The two “chakpurs” are said to symbolize the union of wisdom and compassion. The Mandalas are created whenever a need for healing of environment and living beings is felt.

The event itself has four dimensions:

  • Live viewing of the construction of the Mandala
  • An interactive discussion with the monks
  • A presentation by Za Rinpuche, a cultural leader of Emaho Foundation, Scottsdale, on the Mandala’s connection to philosophy, religion and spirituality
  • Participation in final rituals late in the evening of the March 7th Emerge 2014 event

During the Mandala construction, audiences are welcome to question, probe and seek any information from the monks. We believe Emerge 2014 visitors will appreciate this unique Buddhist art form and its connection to the meaning of “the future of me.”

Watch a Mandala creation:

 

Image courtesy of Gary Ashley, used under a Creative Commons license. Thanks Gary!

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