The monks from the Drepung Loseling Monstaery of Dharmsala, India, arrived in SLOTown Tuesday to create a “sand painting” mandala for world peace. They set up in the SLO Art Museum for three days. Visitors were free to come and go and observe the process.
The tradition is an ancient one in many cultures. It’s called “Kultson Kyilkhor,” which means “Mandala of colored sand powder.” In Tibetan tradition, it is believed that “wherever a Sand Mandala is created, all sentient beings and the surrounding environment are blessed. Whoever views the mandala experiences profound peace and great joy. The colorfulness and harmony of the millions of sand particles in the mandala gives a powerful message that we can all live in peace if each of us works in creating a little more space for others in our hearts.”
Dressed in their traditional robes, the monks initially held an opening ceremony to concecrate the site, then started by drawing a precisely inscribed design in white ink on the black table. According do an information sheet given to visitors, in “ancient times, powdered precious and sem-precious gems were used instead of sand. Thus, lapis lazuli would be used for the blue color, and rubies for the red color and so forth. The artists begin at the center of the mandala and work outward.”
On a side table, the monks had laid out their little bowls of colored sand. The sand is loaded into a long metal tool, a “Chakpur,” that has serrated edges on the outside. That funnel-tool is carefully placed on the area to be worked and another metal rod is rapidly scraped over the serrations, causing vibrations that gently, precisely release the sands where the monk’s skilled hands want it to go.
The spiritual belief involved is that the mandalas have “outer, inner and secret meanings. 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 an enlightened mind; and on the secret level, they depict the primordially perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and clear light dimensions of the mind. The creation of a sand paining is said to effect purification and healing on all three levels.”
After three days of incredibly intense work, the mandala was completed and carried outside for the final ceremony of changing and music. After which, a monk stepped forward and cut the circle, again and again and again. He then swept all the now mixed grains of sand into a pile to be distributed to any who wanted a small amount to take home to scatter around their home or garden.
The bulk of the sand was then carried down to San Luis Creek to be gently scattered on the water, the grains to be carried by the waters down to the sea to join all the other grains of sand. And for the witnesses, the teaching remains: The impermanence of all things. Everything that exists has a beginning, a middle and an end. In the mandala, like life itself, the grains of sand are brought together for a brief time to create something of beauty and meaning and then are returned to their source as part of the whole once again.