Saturday I went to watch the dismantling of a sand mandala. A group of Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in Karnataka, India, had constructed the mystic figure at the county library in nearby Rosemead, and while I was unable to attend the opening ceremony, I was determined to witness the closing.
The mandala in situ:
A mandala is a kind of cosmogram -- a drawn or painted image that serves as a symbolic map or diagram of a universe or realm. Being a very visual-arts oriented person, I myself like to think of them primarily as visual aids in meditation and contemplative focus, but there are many different mandalas, representing different 'buddhaverses' or states of mind, used for different purposes.
A near-overhead shot of the mandala:
Considering that the medium used to create the 'painting' is fairly gross by nature -- grains of sand -- it's pretty amazing the level of fineness the monks manage to obtain. The photo above was uploaded without downsizing so it can be expanded to full size (after clicking on the image, you may need to right-click and 'open image', or whatever, to get the full expansion). To obtain this image I stepped right up to the edge of the table and extended my camera arm as far as I dared -- I actually thought it would be a perfect 'Seinfeld moment' if someone tried the same thing, craned too far and fell over the sacred image, sending multihued sand flying everywhere^ (later I found out that such accidents have actually happened in the past).
The monks file in and make preparations:
The Ven. Geashe Lobsang Tsetan, the leader of the group, spoke briefly about what mandalas are and why the monks travel the west creating and destroying them (he mentioned that this is the mandala of the Medicine Buddha, which would be the Buddha Bhaisajyaguru -- written སངས་རྒྱས་སྨན་བླ། in Tibetan and 약사여래 in Korean); then those who had been instrumental in making the event possible were recognized.
At last the ceremony proper commenced in earnest. Here began the solemn and mysterious chanting that I had previously only heard in recordings. Here is a short video clip of it:
Then, without any special announcement, the actual dismantling of the mandala began.
The initial 'crossing-out' of the mandala, followed by a spiraling sweep toward the center:
Finally, the sand was divided up into little portions, to be given away as reminders of a very special experience.
After I came home I poured some of mine into a tiny bottle (which I purchased years ago without any special purpose in mind -- everything finds a use, or a reason is found for everything, eventually) so I could carry it around with me, as a kind of rainbow-colored charm.