Millions of grains of sand, painstakingly laid into place.
I watched monks from Tibet create a sand Mandala at the Cultural Gallery in Stuart, FL.
Of all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and exquisite. And impermanent.
One day some people came to the master and asked: How can you be happy in a world of such impermanence, where you cannot protect your loved ones from harm, illness or death? The master held up a glass and said: Someone gave me this glass; It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it and it rings! One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken, so I enjoy it – incredibly. -Ajahn Chah
A sand-painted Mandala is a tool for consecrating the earth and its inhabitants. According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, a Mandala has outer, inner, and secret meanings. The outer level symbolizes the world in its divine form.
The inner level represents a map of the human mind as it transforms into an enlightened one. The secret level depicts the primordial balance of body energies and dimensions of the mind.
The monks began with an opening ceremony to consecrate the site of the Mandala with chanting, music, and mantras.
They designed the mandala on a table, measuring and drawing architectural lines with a straight-edged ruler, a compass, and a white ink pen. Very exacting work.
During the creation, the monks pour millions of grains of sand from a chakpur, a funnel-shaped metal tool.
The funnel is filled with the colored grains and then rasped to release a fine stream of sand. Work begins at the center of the mandala, moving outward, for a week.
Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible. -Nhat Hanh
During the closing ceremony, the monks deconstruct the Mandala, sweeping up the colored sand as a symbol of impermanence, a reminder to us that everything has a beginning and an end.
They give half of the sand to onlookers as a blessing for their personal health and healing.
The monks carry the rest of the sand to the St. Lucie River, where they watch as the grains drift downstream to the ocean. Healing blessings radiate across the planet.
We want things to be permanent, but that can’t be. It’s impossible. Whether we laugh or cry over them, things just go their own way. I don’t know of any science yet that can prevent it. My dentist checks my teeth, but even if he fixes them, they’ll still go their own way. (I’m sure my dentist knows this, even about his own teeth.) Hard as it is to accept, everything falls apart in the end.
The monks did more than paint with sand. They taught me that impermanence is the very essence of joy. We all need a drop of bitterness to appreciate the sweet.
*header quote, Michelle Cliff, Jamaican author