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The Sand Men: Buddhist monks create sand mandala

Buddhist monks spent more than 30 hours creating an intricate sand mandala in Eggers Hall at Syracuse University.

Buddhist monks Lobsang Tashi and Dhondup Gyaltsen spent more than 30 hours creating an intricate sand mandala in Eggers Hall at Syracuse University.

Then, at the end of the five days, they lifted a vase of water and poured it over their creation — destroying everything in moments.

The venerables, visiting monks from the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies in Ithaca, N.Y., were at SU from Sept. 21 to Sept. 25 to create the sand mandala, a two-dimensional representation of Buddha’s divine house. Tashi and Gyaltsen worked on the mandala Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an hour break for lunch.

Photo: Shayna Meliker
The completed sand mandala, before the destruction ceremony.

Tashi was born in Tibet in 1956, and became a monk at age 9. In October 2007, he was invited to create a sand mandala in Ithaca when the Dalai Lama, their leader, visited Cornell University. Gyaltsen was also born in Tibet and became a monk by age 9. He was born in 1944 to a family with 17 children, and has traveled the world creating sand mandalas in Russia, France, Africa and New York City.

On Friday, more than 100 people packed the second and third floors of Eggers to watch the dismantling ceremony, which began at 3 p.m. After ritual prayers, the monks poured water over the mandala and used small brushes to destroy it.

“We show everything is impermanent,” Gyaltsen said. “This kind of two-dimensional sand rendering is only temporary.”

Emera Bridger Wilson, outreach coordinator for the South Asia Center, hosted the two monks at her home for the week they were in Syracuse. She said she was amazed to see how intricate of a design they made with just sand.

“I think the thing that I’ve learned is patience, and really being mindful about things,” she said. “They are very thoughtful about everything they do in designing the mandala.”

Christine Mahoney, an assistant professor of political science, said it’s been a beautiful process to see the monks create the mandala all week.

“They started on Monday, and it was really quiet here because it was a holiday, and there weren’t any students around,” Mahoney said. “And then slowly you see people passing by and getting interested and practicing doing it themselves.”

Mahoney said she thinks the message of the mandala creation has reached a few hundred people. Throughout the week, students and professors passing the mandala have stopped to talk to the monks and take pictures with their cameras and cell phones. During the destruction ceremony, students leaned over the third-floor balconies to get a good view of the ceremony below.

One of the students who gathered for the ceremony was Paloma Raggo, a graduate student in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

“I thought it was quite interesting to see so much effort, so much work being just destroyed like that,” Raggo said. “I think it’s a good lesson for us who always work so hard for something, and at the end, we have to think about what it means for us.”

Cool vid. Thanks for sharing

Cool vid. Thanks for sharing

Impressive! I think it would

Impressive! I think it would take me more lives to understand the level of determination of Buddhist monks, I have great admiration for these people. Mandala is a symbol of that determination, I've read about it's meaning before in one of the church of Shambhala articles.

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