The Colgate Scene
May 2000
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An impermanent mandala
 

H
ours of work, exquisite detail and serene beauty in the form of an Avalokiteshvara mandala were scraped up and scattered upon the waters of Taylor Lake.

     The sand wheel of compassion was created by Tenzin Gephel and Tenzin Twothup, monks from the Namgyal Monastery, an Ithaca branch of the Dalai Lama's private monastery, as an aspect of Professor of Physics Vic Mansfield's core cultures course on Tibet.

     For five days the two Buddhist monks labored in the group study lounge just inside the main entrance of Case Library. Their progress was monitored by a webcam (the website garnered more than 2,000 hits) and a variety of visitors. Nearly grain by grain, the monks created the mandala by sifting colored sand through metal funnels with serrated edges that allowed them to vibrate out a controlled flow.

     The Buddhists see in mandalas a deity's divine environment and the path to complete enlightenment. At the center of the Colgate creation was a lotus, one of many elements in the design that had symbolic meaning. The flower represents a peaceful deity and indeed the entire process was almost supernaturally calm, tranquil.

     The ritual art form dates from 600 B.C.E. and was once part of a private ceremony.

     "The days of the great yak herds owned by monasteries are gone," said Mansfield, "so as a matter of solvency and cultural preservation, monks are now creating these works publicly."

     The building of the mandala was part of a series of events that included a lecture and a fundraising party at Phi Tau with proceeds benefiting Tibetan refugees.

     After the completed mandala had been on display for three days, a dissolution ritual began. Tenzin Gephel told the throng that overflowed the lounge (students even leaned a ladder up against a library window and watched from outside) that the work had been done for world peace. He and Twothup then sectioned the wheel off and began to sweep the design away to reinforce the Buddhist emphasis on impermanence.

     Some of the sand was put into small plastic bags and handed out to the audience, while the rest was collected in a glass pitcher. The monks then led the crowd down the steps of the library to the Willow Path and the bridge over Payne Creek. The sand was offered to the water "for purification of the environment and its inhabitants."

     "There was tremendous enthusiasm," reported Mansfield, who expressed delight despite the number of details to attend and fires to put out.

     "Students really threw themselves into it and that really turned me on. They showed some idealism." JH

   

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