BY VAL PETSCHE
The monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India constructed an intricate sand mandala during their stay from March 13-17, introducing messages of peace, consciousness and enlightenment surrounding the Tibetan culture of Buddhism.
The monks’ residence marks their sixth visit to Salisbury University, a visit that came with the blessings of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
Venerable Jampa Dhondup La, an ordained monk, explained their reasons for visiting Salisbury.
He stated, “The first is world peace. Secondly, to spread awareness of the Tibetan culture, and the third is to promote our monastery of monks.”
This event commenced with an opening ceremony on Monday, which included a performance of Tibetan music, dancing and chants.
The chosen mandala this year depicted Akshobya, one of the wisdom Buddhas representing mirror knowledge. It reflects each deity and quality of the Buddha.
Geshe Thupten Loden La, a translator among the monks, stated, “Akshobya Buddha literally translates as ‘unshakeable victor,’ embodying the peace and conflict resolution of the Buddha.” Geshe’s title is equivalent to that of a doctorate.
The monks began to draw complex geometric measurements in chalk to outline the mandala. They worked tirelessly each day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., depositing millions of granules of pulverized marble at incremental stages.
The fine stone particles are extremely dense to help the mandala maintain its shape. The sand was then applied using a small funnel called a chak-pur, which works by rubbing a grooved surface along the sides of the funnel. This movement creates vibrations, sending sand fragments onto the work surface.
The gems formed a delicate labyrinth of vibrant colors through a slow progression over the course of the week. Layer by layer, the sands evolved into a beautiful, variegated mosaic. The structure’s lack of reinforcement made it subject to change at any moment.
Geshe was asked what students can conceptualize following such an experience, to which he replied, “They can learn passion, tolerance and teamwork from this mandala.”
Geshe reflected on the subject of happiness in a discussion. “One of the key things to happiness is contentment. Trying to be content with what we have, and thinking about others is also going to make you happy.”
He continued, “Whenever I’m in the company of others, I will regard myself as the lowest among all. And from the depths of my heart, cherish others as supreme.” Geshe explained that it is possible to limit sadness by cultivating a mind which puts others as superior.
Katie Caroll, assistant of the Cultural Affairs office, mentioned, “There is such serenity in their acceptance of all things, and it’s honestly so inspiring.”
The monks presented the mandala upon completion on Friday afternoon. The closing ceremony started with a ritual chanting, followed by an empowering prayer for the audience.
Geshe consecrated the mandala as its surface was dismantled with gentle, sweeping brush strokes. Members of the crowd watched in silence and awe while the artwork was completely altered.
A final ritual concluded the week-long event as Geshe dispersed the sand into the river at City Park in Salisbury. The monks marched in a procession of musical instruments, bellowing loud noises leading up to this.
It was shocking to see something so beautiful destroyed by the hands of its creators. But the monks were teaching an important lesson; it was a metaphor for life. The destruction symbolizes the impermanence of everything, for nothing lasts forever, and there are so many beautiful things to experience despite a fleeting existence.
“I think that’s something that people really regret, is not taking time to appreciate what really matters,” Caroll said.
Dr. James Hatley is a professor of philosophy at Salisbury University. He discussed the insight that one may receive from Buddhist teachings, stating “Instead of deciding what the world means, being a witness to what the world means.”
He then explained, “In a time of alternative facts, it is a sort of interesting thing that we have the tradition of saying, ‘no, there’s no alt-facts,’ there’s just being still and letting modern reality hinge on it.”
Hatley was referring to the abundance of alternative or misleading facts people are often affronted with. Rather than reacting to such noise or endeavoring to understand its multifarious meanings, one should enjoy the world, observing events as they unfold.
Amy Mellinger, a senior majoring in Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution, mentioned, “When something happens, it makes you take a second and really think about it in your mind versus just reacting.”
She discussed her experience volunteering at the event that week, adding, “Just seeing what they have makes you reevaluate, and the little things don’t seem bad.”
“We take for granted how much we have… it’s easy to get used to abundance, so very little of it is appreciated,” Caroll explained.
There were many meaningful things to gain from this event. The monks’ gift of the exquisite mandala, for example, was extremely memorable. It was a testimony to the profound artistry that man is capable of.
But the values learned from its destruction remained salient, specifically the ability to understand the ephemeral quality of life.
A human’s stay on earth is short-lived; thus, one should enjoy the present moment, cherish others and recognize change as a constant in an ever-moving world.
Observe the surrounding scene, the deep blueness of the sky or the towering trees that stand silently among humans. Life is exquisite, and one must be conscious to understand the magnitude of its beauty.