Thursday, October 20, 2011

Destroying the Mandala

This past Sunday, I went to a sand mandala destruction ceremony at Amherst College that I heard about through Hilltown Families.

We got to the Frost Library right as the ceremony was starting, and the place was crowded.  There were rings of people around the table that the mandala was constructed on.   The monks talked a little about their experience constructing mandalas, the variety of sand mandalas that exist, etc.  All throughout the ceremony, people kept taking pictures.  At one point, a woman pushed her way to the front row, knelt down, and started clicking away with a professional looking camera.  It struck me as funny that we try to capture the images of a ceremony that’s meant to be about the impermanence of things.  Not that I was above it all in some serene detachment from the material world.—I thought about taking a picture, too.

They took little pinches of sand from each area of the mandala.  I wondered if they were going to deconstruct the whole mandala this way, bit by bit.  But then one of the monks took this tool that looked a little like a pizza slicer, and cut into the mandala, slashing diagonally across the mandala until the sand blurred together.  It was really moving; I don’t think I was the only one in the crowd on the verge of tears.

(Image of similar ceremony courtesy of nimpitja)
The two monks gathered up the sand into a ceremonial urn, and a big crowd of people followed the monks down to this stream on campus, where the sand was poured into the water.  Then, it was all over.  The monks and everyone following them trooped back up the hill.  I watched by the stream, with a few other stragglers. It took a long time for the sand to spread through the water.  

It was such a cool experience; I wish there were weekly mandala destruction ceremonies to attend.  But then again, I guess that would counteract the whole impermanence theme.  

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