by Alex Geffener-Mihlsten
Five Tibetan monks exposed students to a new cultural experience: the creation of a sand mandala. These monks have been travelling around the United States on a tour for more than three months and will be making twelve mandalas in total.
The monks’ stay at Chadwick was much shorter than their time at other places. Tenzin Sherab, the translator and driver for the monks, said, “The sand mandalas that they make usually take about five days. Here, though, the monks made the sand mandala in only two days because they are on a tight schedule.”
The sand mandala is a traditional Tibetan and Buddhist art piece, dating back to the 8th century. Sherab said, “The sand mandala is actually not made of sand. The material that they use to make the mandalas is dyed, ground-up river rocks.”
The monks fill funnels with the finely ground rocks and rub another piece of metal over the funnel. This creates vibrations that let out precise amounts of sand on top of a template that the monks create. These funnels give the monks complete control over the speed of the sand and where it lands on the table. The end result is a colorful piece of art, with many lotus flowers and other intricate details.
The monks’ names are Geshe Jampa Tenzin, Geshe Lobsang Thupten, Lobsang Tseten, Lobsang Dhonyoe and Thupten Nyima. “Geshe is not part of their names, but it is their title. It is like a Ph.D. title,” said Sherab.
These monks were born in Tibet, but now live and practice Buddhism in southwestern India. Their monastery in India is called Drepung Loeseling Monastic University. Currently, the Chinese have a military occupation in Tibet, making it impossible for these monks to return to their country and practice their religion there.
The creation of this sand mandala is extremely important in the Buddhist religion. There are many sand mandalas that can be made, but Chadwick asked the monks to make a sand mandala for compassion.
“The sand mandala for compassion is the most popular,” Sherab said. “Everyone wants to have a little more compassion in their lives.”
The sand mandala is created with the intention of helping people understand important aspects of life. “The mandala is more than just creating a beautiful piece of art. It teaches lessons about compassion, patience, and peace,” Sherab said.
Another important part of the art of the sand mandala is its destruction. After the monks create the sand mandala, is it brushed away and throw it into a river. Sherab said, “The reason why they work so hard, and then sweep it up and throw it into the river is to show that nothing is permanent. It shows the impermanence of life, and the fact that nothing will last forever.”
After the mandala was destroyed, students could take home a little bit of sand from the art piece, and the rest was taken to pour into a river.
“We also want to teach a message of concentration and patience. It takes a lot of concentration and patience to create the sand mandala,” said Sherab.
Many students went to see the sand mandala, and it had a strong effect on them.
Sophomore Austin Welch said, “I thought it was an incredible experience to see another culture being brought to Chadwick. I thought it was amazing that they worked so hard to create the sand mandala, but in the end, they were willing to sweep it up and throw it into a river. After seeing the monks create this masterpiece, I felt enlightened. I felt connected to the cultures around me.”
Many other students felt inspired by the monks to improve their life. “It makes me feel great that there are people out there who are capable of doing what those monks can do,” sophomore Austin Welch said.
“Life moves so fast that it is easy to get caught up in it. The way they slowed down was completely life changing. I am not sure if their lifestyle is right for me, but if I could, I would definitely want to learn to be like them.”
After only two days, the monks left Chadwick, leaving an aura of peace and enlightenment.