Saturday, January 1, 2011

Last night Cullen and I witnessed something that I have never had the chance to see before.

For the last three weeks, Tibetan monks have been in Santa Fe creating this extraordinary sand mandala. I was able to see them last year as they carefully (painstakingly) and slowly "tapped" the colored sand into these amazing designs. I did not see them this year, but last night we went to the closing ceremony for the mandala.
After much chanting and music (45 minutes, about) the monks "brushed away" this beauty they had created. It was surely a lesson in "letting go" the material things in life.

This is the mandala before the ceremony.
You can't imagine the detail these monks get with grains of sand.

I think that this photo captures the detail better than the other photos I took.
I felt a little conspicuous taking photos, though I was not alone.

More detail of one small corner.
If you click on this photo, you can see the "topography" of the sand.
The monks carefully tap out the sand, over and over, to create tiny mounds of sand.
It is incredibly effective.

The image in this photo was one of four - each opposing the other.
The background color behind the orange "figure" in the middle was different in each.
The scale of this is difficult to describe to you....
The orange figure with green dotted scallops was approx 4" square
Truly incredible...

Above, is the center of the mandala.
To each of four directions from the center, the design extended to the edge of the circle.
Putting together all of my photos, you can get an idea of the pattern.

These are the Tibetan monks who produced the breathtaking mandala. Here they are making music and chanting during the ceremony. The low guttural sounds they are capable of making is almost in-human. The monk just two over from the drum seemed to be the leader of the chanting. He had muscles on the sides of his neck that worked so hard as he chanted and sang. It was fascinating to watch them milk the sound from his being. The horns and trumpet-like instruments sounded so unusual that one might think them annoying if taken out of context.
The drum was painted beautifully and had an odd sort of drumstick - curved in a way that reminded me of Dr Seuss. I guess the hats had a bit of that, too. Still, the entire celebration was an experience I am glad I was able to have.

As they finished the chanting and music, one monk came forward and walked around the table several times, ringing a bell (representing female) in his left hand and a dorje (small barbell-looking "thunderbolt" representing the male) in his right. He then dropped a flower in the center of the mandala and began to pick up small grains of sand from four directions and drop them on the flower. From there, he used his pinkie finger to run from the edge of the mandala to the center, wiping away the pattern in four directions. Then, he repeated that motion in-between each of the four directions to the center. After that, he walked back to the other monks. Another monk walked to the center with brush and very methodically brushed away the sand - four directions first, then in-between each of those and between those til the entire mandala was brushed clean.
I was interested in the motions each monk made to "clear" the sand..... very meticulous and definite. The entire celebration was moving and thoughtful.

I hope I can take what I saw and utilize it in my own life. Learning to "let go" and move forward is a good thing. It can be hard to become attached to things and watch them just ... disappear.
I need to learn to not be attached to everything I come in contact with. (maybe I should start to by cleaning out my closet!) I think it will take some thought and planning to get this under my skin, but I need to make the effort..... something fresh.


  1. Thank's for sharing this with us Jone!
    I have never seen mandalas made by sand before,
    I'm speachless, they are truly beautiful!
    In the school where I'm working we use the mandalas for making kids slow down and learn how to focus!

    Letting things go are not always easy...
    but life gives us lessons almost every day.
    Lots of love

  2. What a crucial theme to carry through this year-- THANK YOU, Joni, for capturing this so vividly, and so poetically. The one time I witnessed this (besides our summer camp experience that I mentioned this morning) was at Rutgers when the Dalai Lama made a visit to the school, accompanied by a number of Tibetan monks who also constructed a mandala in the jewel of an art museum... -- here's a link to some photos and an article!

    after the completion of the installation, the sand was swept up and much of it carried to the nearby raritan river to be washed away, much in the same spirit as what you and Cullen saw...

    Here's to a beautiful NEW YEAR in which we treasure and appreciate all things that are helping us to grow and learn, and in which we also let go...

    LOVE you!