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By Susan Hamel in All Sorts

illustrating that nothing is permanent

I was fortunate to be able to see a completed sand mandala at the Central Library of the University of Otago on September 12th. It was created by the Tibetan Buddhist monk Geshe Lobsang Dhonyoe, who worked for three painstaking weeks to create the mandala, in honour of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. As you can see from the picture I took during the closing ceremony, the mandala has an incredibly detailed and vibrantly coloured design. But it is not random. Each section and pattern bears special significance.
A mandala is constructed of crushed and coloured marble sand and sometimes even crushed gemstones. The grains are carefully dropped into place from traditional funnels made of copper. And although the result is a stunning work of art, it does not last long. When it was finished, after a short ceremony, the mandala was swept into a vase and scattered into Otago Harbour to spread the blessings of this sacred design. The creation of sand mandalas is a meditative activity for the monks, who train for years to be able to do this meticulous work. But why would monks spend so many days and hours creating something that is destined to be destroyed?
The creation of mandalas is thought to have originated in India and was later adopted in Tibet. And though the above sand mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual discipline, mandalas are also found in many other faiths. They are not always transitory, however. Some are woven with heavy silk fabric and are meant to be used as an aid to meditation. A mandala generally represents the spiritual journey, starting from outside to the inner core. It is often circular. If the mandala is created of sand, like the one above, then its meaning comes from its ephemerality. Impermanence is one of the three essential doctrines of Buddhism, (along with karma and rebirth) and it is in watching the work of creating the mandala then seeing it swept away and destroyed that we are able to understand that nothing is permanent, however beautiful and meaningful it seems to be. Everything changes and is eventually lost, just like the beautiful mandala of Manjushri.
Rev. Susan Hamel