of The Monks of
Thursday, May 15, 2003, from 9:00 a.m.
– 5:30 p.m. and
Sand Mandala Painting
The powdered sand painting is one of the oldest artistic traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. In Tibetan, the art is called dultson kyilkhor, which literally means "mandala of colored sand powders." Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning cosmogram or "world in harmony." In the Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism, it is said that wherever a sand mandala is created, all the sentient beings and the environment in the locality are blessed. Whoever views the mandala experiences peace and joy in their hearts. The colorfulness and harmony of the millions of sand particles in the mandala gives a powerful message that we all can live in peace if each of us work in creating a little more space for others in our hearts. It is said that children in particular, when seeing the mandala leave with very positive imprints which will later on germinate as sprouts of peace when they grow older.
The Mandala Construction Process
Sand-painted mandalas are used as tools for reconsecrating the earth and its inhabitants. In general all 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 transfomed into an enlightened mind; and on the secret level they depict the primordially perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind. The creation of a sand painting is said to effect purification and healing on the three levels.
The monks begin by consecrating the site of the mandala and sand painting with approximately 30 minutes of chants, music and mantra recitation. This event is usually acoustically striking and draws large audiences and enormous media attention.
Drawing of the Lines
Immediately after the Opening ceremony the monks start drawing the line design for the mandala on a base or table. The artists measure out and draw the architectural lines using a straight-edged ruler, compass and white ink pen. This is very exacting work that takes about three hours to complete.
Throughout its creation, the monks pour millions of grains of sand from the traditional metal funnels called Chakpur. The funnel is filled with colored sand and is then rasped in order to release a fine stream of sand. In ancient times powdered precious and semi-precious gems were also used instead of sand. Thus, lapus Lazuli would be used for the blues and rubies for the red and so forth. The artists begin at the center of the mandala and work out. The finished mandala is approximately five feet by five feet in size, and requires a week or more to complete.
The monks conclude their creation of the mandala with a consecration ceremony. It is a very colorful ceremony.
Dismantling the Mandala
During the closing ceremony, the monks dismantle the mandala, sweep the colored sands to symbolize the impermanence of all that exists. When requested, half of the sand is distributed to the audience as blessings for their personal health and healing. The sand can be either kept in ones home on the altar or dispersed around in the yard to protect the home from any evil and negative forces; the remaining sand is then carried in a procession.
Dispersal of Sand
Monks, accompanied by guests, take the sand to a flowing body of water, where it is ceremonially poured to disperse the healing energies of the mandala throughout the world.
There are hundreds of mandalas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Every tantric system has its own mandala, each one symbolizing a particular extential and spiritual approach. For example, that of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshavara symbolizes compassion as a central focus of the spiritual experience; that of Manjushri takes wisdom as the central focus and that of Goddess Tara is created to pacify the obstacles and to generate wealth and life.
Master Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, the personal tutor to the Eighth Dalai Lama, founded Samtenling Monastery in 1750 in Kyridrong (Joyful Village) in Western Tibet. The site for the construction of the monastery was blessed by visits from many influential scholars and translators such as, the Abbot Shantarakshita, Guru Rinpoche and Kamalshila. In addition to these, other great religious figures such as Phadampa Sangye, Melarepa, Rendawa and Drubchen Ugyen also went to the site. Indian Master Atisha, whose teachings became the source of Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, also frequently visited this place.
After the Communist take over of Tibet, the monks of the Samtenling Monastery left the country, entering into exile in 1959. They re-established the monastery close to the historic Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal. From then until now they have worked to preserve their traditions of chanting and ritual. Samtenling Monastery was renowned for their elaborate work of sand painting and butter sculpture art. In exile also, the Tibetan community highly praises the monastery for keeping alive the quality of the art of Sand Mandala making, the art of mask making and the art of creating secret mantras for the stupas and statues.
Text provided by the Monks. For more information about these traditions, see www.mysticalartsof tibet.org.