It took a team of monks working for eight hours per day over four consecutive days to build it, but it only took a few minutes Saturday to sweep up the multi-colored sand that they had so meticulously and precisely applied to create the sand mandala in the Edmonds Center for the Arts lobby. And then it was no more.
The centerpiece of this week’s Mystical Arts of Tibet event at ECA, the mandala represents underlying tenets of the Buddhist faith and teachings. This design is one of several. Called Ashokbhiya, it symbolizes conflict resolution and according to the monks’ spokesperson Geshe Tenzin Phentsok, is one of their most requested mandalas.
In town since Monday, the Tibetan monks’ primary focus has been construction of the mandala in the ECA lobby. Many have stopped by to view the monks at work, and none fails to be impressed by their laser-like focus, attention to detail, patience and dedication.
Watching the monks at work is a meditative experience. Their movements are slow and deliberate as they take up small amounts of sand in their tools, and precisely tease it onto the blueprint. The design that emerges is nothing short of breathtaking.
Described as a sacred cosmogram used as an object of contemplation, the mandala depicts the pure nature of the world in which we live, and how to live most effectively in that world. By creating a sand mandala, the monks “bring the creative energy of that sacred dimension into our lives and attune ourselves to this natural perfection,” Phentsok explained.
He went on to say that the sand is entirely hand-ground by monks at the Drepung Loseling Monastery in southern India from pieces of marble, and colored with natural vegetable dyes. Before leaving the monastery, the sand is blessed by each of the 3,000 monks now in residence there.
But on Saturday afternoon, the time for this physical mandala had passed.
In a moving closing ceremony observed by an estimated 200 visitors, the monks deconstructed the mandala, accompanied by chanting, ritual and playing sacred instruments. Sweeping the sand to the center in precise curved strokes, the monks created yet another design, showing graceful lines of energy converging on the center of the surface that had held the completed mandala. This design disappeared too, as the monks swept up the remaining sand and presented small amounts to all in attendance as a remembrance.
But not all the sand was given away. Approximately two handfuls were kept back, placed in a container and transported in a ritual procession to a private home on Cary Road. Shell Creek flows through the property on its way to Puget Sound. The monks assembled by the shore, and after more chanting and ritual ceremoniously scattered the sand into the sparkling water, releasing its energy to the universe.
“But please remember that the mandala is not gone,” explained Phentsok. “This is just the physical mandala, but the spiritual mandala continues to exist in all sentient beings, all of us. It has been our privilege to visit you in Edmonds, and to leave behind something of value.”
–– Story and photos by Larry Vogel