Monks bless Aspen with destruction of mandala
December 9, 2002
The monks of the Gaden Shartse Monastery in India ended their stay in Aspen on Saturday not only with a blessing of the community, but a blessing for the Earth itself.
These blessings came courtesy of the mandala, a sacred sand mural the monks created over the course of their weeklong visit.
The mandala, an intricate network of symbols and designs that took the monks nearly five days to create, was constructed for just one purpose ? its eventual destruction would serve as a blessing for the community in which it was created.
Though the dissolution ceremony was set to begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, the crowd was given a few moments to admire and snap photos of the finished mandala. One woman, video camera in hand, seemed disappointed in the impending destruction of the mandala.
“It’s kind of a shame,” she said, laughing quietly with a friend.
The six monks assembled several flower arrangements, incense and a variety of Buddhist symbols around the nearly 3-foot-wide mandala. Then, the monks were finally seated around the mandala table, and the chatter of the surrounding room fell silent ? even a group of small children gathered at the front of the crowd quieted quickly.
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Lobsang Wangchuk, a monk who has served as interpreter for much of the group’s stay in Aspen, began the ceremony with a short description of the mandala his companions had created. Lobsang described the mandala as the representation of the Buddha Compassion, just one incarnation of Buddhism’s highest power. The mandala, he continued, also represents Buddhism’s high priest, the Dalai Lama.
“Wherever this [mandala] goes, his Holiness is present,” Lobsang said.
The mandala, he explained, is actually a flat, two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object ? a map of a being’s entire existence.
“The whole life path, from beginning to enlightenment, is pictured here,” Lobsang said.
Through these prayers, Lobsang explained, the monks would invite the Buddha Compassion to appear and inhabit the mandala, bringing peace to those assembled and blessing them with empathy for others.
Lobsang urged the crowd to stare into the mandala’s pattern and create wholesome thoughts about family, friends, even the entire state of Colorado, in order to “remove suffering from every human being as far as you can imagine.”
At the same time, Lobsang said, the mandala would serve its ultimate purpose ? to remove negativity from the community for which it was created.
“Just to gaze into it can extract negativity over lifetimes,” he said.
Once the prayers had ended, Dalai Geshe Lungtok ? a visiting monk who led blessing ceremonies of local donors throughout the week ? used a small tool to carve lines throughout the mandala as he circled the mural table. Then, the monk used a small brush to sweep the mandala together, from the outside of the tableau to its center, turning the intricate mandala into nothing more than a multicolored pile of dust.
The pile, the monks said, represents the impermanence of all things. And, all that it destroyed will be reborn ? another mandala will take shape on the next leg of the monks’ tour of the United States.
Once the mandala’s sand had been gathered, the grains were then distributed in small bags to all who requested them. The children who had remained quiet throughout the ceremony were first in line for the sand, and their requests were quickly followed by the clamor of assembled adults.
The supply of sacred sand was nearly depleted, but Dennis Tuma ? a member of the Roaring Fork Friends of Tibet and a sponsor of the monks’ stay in Aspen ? promised to make sand available to those with family or friends in need of the Buddhist blessing.
Following the dissolution ceremony, the monks led a quiet processional through the center of town ? a walk through the Hyman Avenue mall that drew curious looks from passers-by ? to the Roaring Fork River. The remaining mandala sand was slowly sifted into the rushing water and carried quickly away ? a blessing for the Earth that the sand would eventually join, the monks explained.
[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]