Sacred Detail: The Completion and Dismantling of the Sand Mandala

After discovering the Tibetan practice of the Sand Mandala through the Emory-Tibet partnership last Monday, I visited the display daily, with the exception of Tuesday, to view the progress. You can read about my experience of the opening ceremony and line drawing here and my experience of viewing the construction of the initial stages of the mandala here.

Geshe Lobdang Tenzin Negi is a senior lecturer and the director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Here he is explaining the symbolism of the mandala.

Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi is a senior lecturer and the director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Here he is explaining the symbolism of the mandala.

I choose the word “construction” intentionally, as I learned throughout my experience that the monks envision the mandala in three dimensions. It is a model of the cosmos and resembles the structure of a temple or shrine. At the heart of this particular mandala is the Buddha of Compassion, Arya Avalokiteshvara. According to the lecturer at the closing ceremony, Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, the devotees contemplate the Buddha of Compassion in order to cultivate an attitude of compassion towards all sentient beings. They contemplate how compassion can manifest in holistic medicine and spiritual knowledge and also to inform ethical behavior and the resolution of political tensions.

During the closing ceremony and dismantling, the monks chant prayers of compassion. The dismantling conveys the impermanence of all things, and there is a mixture of emotions, particularly from the unfamiliar onlookers on the dismantling of the exquisite artwork. The monks distributed some of the sand to the spectators, but carried most of it in a sacred urn which they traditionally pour out into a flowing body of water that carries their compassionate prayers to the entire cosmos. After a procession around Emory University, they carried the urn to a creek behind the Michael C. Carlos Museum to complete the ritual.

If you ever want to view variations on the ritual, there are several videos of these monks performing the ceremonies online. These are also the same monks featured in episode 7 of season 3 of House of Cards. We, of course, had to binge watch the season in order to see the brilliant cinematography of the construction and closing rituals. I even used the images and my experiences in my “Creation Theology, Spirituality, and the Arts” course this morning to talk about analogous thoughts of impermanence in Ecclesiastes and temple construction in Ezekiel.

Here are my final images of the series.

The inner sanctum of the Sand Mandala. The Buddha of Compassion is at the center of the structure. Representations of other deities surround the center, places on eight petals of the lotus flower.

The inner sanctum of the Sand Mandala. The Buddha of Compassion is at the center of the structure. Representations of other deities surround the center, placed on eight petals of the lotus flower.

The monks putting the finishing touches on the nearly completed mandala.

The monks putting the finishing touches on the nearly completed mandala.

A detail shot of the outer courtyard of the mandala. I was impressed with the detail in the figures of various creatures.

A detail shot of the outer courtyard of the mandala. I was impressed with the detail in the figures of various creatures and the two-toned swirls of clouds.

Another perspective on the details of the outer sphere.

Another perspective on the details of the outer sphere. Is that a monkey in the lower left quadrant?

A monk lays the initial lines of the outer lotus petal ring.

A monk lays the initial lines of the outer lotus petal ring.

Another perspective on the lotus petal ring.

Another perspective on the cloud creation.

The filigree on the outermost ring represents the flames of wisdom that purify the one who enters into the mandala.

The filigree on the outermost ring represents the flames of wisdom that purify the one who enters into the mandala. The flames consume all negativities and ignorance.

The three outer rings surround the mandala. The outmost ring represents flames of various colors. The black and yellow ring represent a three dimensional cosmic dome that surrounds the mandala. The innermost of the three rings consists of lotus petal designs.

The three outer rings surround the mandala. The outmost ring represents flames of various colors. The black and yellow ring represents a three dimensional cosmic dome that surrounds the mandala. The innermost of the three rings consists of lotus petal designs.

The beginning of the dismantling ceremony. The dismantling involves the same precision and contemplation as the construction.

The beginning of the dismantling ceremony. The dismantling involves the same precision and contemplation as the construction.

©2015 Garber Geektography. These images are not for sale or for any type of commercial use in accordance with the wishes of the Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc.

Sacred Geometry: Tibetan Week at Emory University

A funny thing happened on the way to a field trip. On Monday, I took my class on “Creation Theology, Spirituality, and the Arts” to the Michael C. Carlos Museum to see the various exhibits on creation motifs from Native American, African, African American, and ancient Near Eastern traditions. Little did I know that we would be going on the opening day of Tibet Week at Emory University. Much to my pleasant surprise, the opening ceremony of the Mandala Sand Painting was taking place after the end of our tour. While most of my students needed to return to our campus for other classes, I took the opportunity to stick around, observe, and photograph the event.

The presentation began with words of introduction followed by some chanting by the monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc. Following the chanting, the monks proceeded to lay out the line drawing for the Mandala Sand Painting. The monks are completing the sand painting over the course of several days and the process is open for viewing from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. the remainder of the week. I plan to go back later in the week to view the progress, and hopefully, the completed result. In the meantime, here are a few of my photos from the opening ceremony. During the process, I thought often of my mother, who is a retired geometry teacher who still practices her love of geometry through quilting. I thought also of my sister, an engineer and all-around crafty genius who loves nothing more than getting out her rulers, protractors, and compasses to create cool things. I have been contemplating the creation of art as a spiritual practice by the monks, my family members, and others all week.

The beautiful, colorful sand, meticulously prepared by the monks.

The beautiful, colorful sand, meticulously prepared by the monks.

The monks open the ceremony and bless the site of the mandala through their chanting.

The monks open the ceremony and bless the site of the mandala through their chanting.

They carefully measured each of the initial lines in order to create perfect symmetry in the line drawing.

They carefully measured each of the initial lines in order to create perfect symmetry in the line drawing.

They used the compasses to both measure and draw curved lines as a part of the design.

They used the compasses to both measure and draw curved lines as a part of the design.

They snapped chalk strings to create many of the straight lines.

They snapped chalk strings to create many of the straight lines.

Using smaller compasses, they continued to add guidelines for the full drawing.

Using smaller compasses, they continued to add guidelines for the full drawing.

There were many lines running through the mandala at precisely measured intervals.

Many lines intersected each other at precisely measured intervals.

They use rulers and chalk pencils to fill in the lines created by the string.

They used rulers and chalk pencils to fill in the lines created by the string.

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All images ©2015 Garber Geektography