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Sand of Enchantment

Jul 8, 2024 | 0 comments

 by Thubten Jangsem, contributing writer 

In New Mexico, the cliffs are painted in colorful ribbons and slow-moving shadows sail across a juniper-spotted sea. A break in the clouds lights up a lone peak behind a dark mesa, striking you with joy in one moment; in just two or three, the pink glow, and one’s mood, change to match muted brown hues—eyes fixed all the while. The land in this state is nothing more than impermanence made visual. Within that promise of change, however, there is freedom, healing… “Enchantment,” as it is routinely called, when more precise words fail to come. 

 “For the visitors, seeing and paying respect creates lots of positive energy of karma, merits which can bring positive changes in their [lives]. It can give much needed inner peace and spiritual awakening.”

Though, at times, this sentiment captures—for me, personally—the experience of living in the New Mexican desert…our recently returned resident teacher, Geshe Thubten Sherab, is referring to an entirely different collection of sand, one that is painted using a palette considerably brighter than Georgia O’Keeffe’s. 

Later this month, monks from Drepung Loseling monastery in southern India will visit The Buddhist Center-Thubten Norbu Ling, bringing heaps of colorful sand with them. As part of the Mystical Arts of Tibet1 tour “endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama “to promote world peace and healing,’” the monks will perform the tantric ritual offering of a sand mandala, or dul-tson-kyil-khor (in Tibetan). 

Of the four different kinds of mandala offerings2—“outer,” “inner,” “secret,” and “suchness”—the sand mandala shares the same category as the common hand gesture, or mudra, made before requesting teachings, etc. In the latter case, the visual arrangement of one’s fingers represents Mount Meru (centrally joined ring fingers), four continents (two corners), the Sun and Moon (tips of ring fingers), and the Universe “ground” (palm). The sand mandala, on the other hand, is considered among the three most extensive types of “outer” mandalas. The symbolism in a sand mandala can be quite intricate, and depends on the theme or deity housed within the mandala. 

“Normally,” Geshe Sherab explains to me via e-mail, “we create mandala when doing empowerment, self initiation and other big sadhana ceremonies.” The Drepung monks were invited to the Buddhist Center “to purify negative karmic energy” in this country and the world, and “to create cause and positive energy to bring harmony, peace, joy in the world.” To this end, the central deity of the mandala will be the Medicine Buddha, who—with his healing nectar— has compassionately vowed to relieve sentient beings’ sufferings of bodies and minds. 

In general, sand mandala offerings are a means of accumulating merit for both the artists and visitors. As Geshe Sherab explains in the quote above, merit can bring “positive changes,” including, for example, the clearing of obstacles to dharma realizations. When observing dul-tson-kyil-khor, Geshe Sherab advises that the amount of merit generated varies, naturally, depending on whether visitors “engage in practices such as prostration, bowing down, paying homage and respect, making offering, circulating and meditating.”

The complete sand mandala will take days for the Drepung monks to build as they carefully slide the final grains of sand down small, hand-held funneled tubes. Once finished, the mandala is destroyed. The blessed sand is swept up and poured into a river or any outlet to the ocean—so as to purify the sentient beings in the Ocean of samsara—as an important lesson: “The destruction of the mandala on the last day [is] to teach and learn about impermanence and letting go of grasping,” Geshe Sherab writes.  

We are fortunate, then, in the Land of Enchantment, to be reminded of this lesson every day. With every trick of light-and-dark played out in the sky and in the landscape, residents and visitors are granted a fleeting taste of the luminous mind, lit up, ever briefly, by a “break in the clouds.”

  1. https://www.mysticalartsoftibet.org ↩︎
  2. As recalled from visiting teacher Geshe Tenzin Zopa’s  classes at the Buddhist Center-Thubten Norbu Ling on “The Universe in our Hands: How and Why to Offer the Mandala” ↩︎

COMING SOON: MYSTICAL ARTS OF TIBET

Sand mandala buddhist center

Interested in witnessing the magic of sand mandalas with your own eyes? We are pleased to welcome back the Mystical Arts of Tibet tour with the monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery (Mundgod, India) who will construct a Medicine Buddha sand mandala at The Buddhist Center.

The Medicine Buddha sand mandala is dedicated to clearing the obscurations that create suffering and conflict, and create a world view of peace, compassion, health, and happiness. It is often referred to as the “Master of Remedies” or the “Sage and Knowing Doctor of Suffering of This World”.

Sunday, July 21: Opening Ceremony

Starting at 2 p.m.

Monday, July 22–Friday, July 26

2:00–6:00 p.m. (end of day chanting meditation from 5:30–6 p.m.)

Saturday, July 27: Mandala Completion and Consecration

10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Sunday, July 28: Closing Ceremony

2:00–3:00 p.m.

Location: The Buddhist Center—Thubten Norbu Ling

130 Rabbit Road from July 21–28.

Additional events:

Saturday, July 27: Sand Painting Demo/Class

Contact Laura or Mickey (505) 660-4085

Starting at 5 p.m. at the Artful Soul, 227 Don Gaspar St.

Saturday, August 3: Santa Fe City Blessing

Location: Aspen Vista Lookout, Santa Fe National Forest.

Individual ceremonies or House Blessings by the Drepung Loseling Monks may be requested from July 21–28 mornings until 1 p.m. and from August 3-4 all day. Contact Harmon Houghton at harmon@clearlightbooks.com for specific times and availability.

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