Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Sand Mandala: A Buddhist Symbol for Impermanence

We read about another Vesak Day celebration in the Bay area, scheduled for June 10, 2007, on the June 7, 2007 issue of St. Petersburg Times (Tampa & State, pg.4B).

This time, the venue is Chua Phat Phap Buddhist Temple in St. Petersburg, a Vietnamese Buddhist temple that we have visited earlier as blogged here.

However, this one has an addition: the display of a sand mandala. According to Wikipedia, while mandala is Sanskrit ("circle", "completion") and has a Hindu origin, "in the Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism, mandalas have been developed into sandpainting. In practice, mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically, a microcosm of the universe from the human perspective."

The Wikipedia article further adds:

"To symbolize impermanence (a central teaching of Buddhism), after days or weeks of creating the intricate pattern, the sand is brushed together and is usually placed in a body of running water to spread the blessings of the Mandala."

"The visualization and concretization of the mandala concept is one of the most significant contributions of Buddhism to religious psychology. Mandalas are seen as sacred places which, by their very presence in the world, remind a viewer of the immanence of sanctity in the universe and its potential in his or her self. In the context of the Buddhist path the purpose of a mandala is to put an end to human suffering, to attain enlightenment and to attain a correct view of Reality. It is a means to discover divinity by the realization that it resides within one's own self."

As shown in the following scanned copy of the St. Pete news, Venerable Tashi, a Tibetan monk based in Bradenton and who was also present in the last two Vesak Celebrations featured in my blog, is a picture of rapt concentration, deftly guiding the tiny flow of colored sand grains issuing from a small tube by rubbing a metal object against the tube's notched surface to form an intricate design of a mandala, which was gradually taking shape as shown in the bottom picture. What a painstaking undertaking indeed.

Today, we made a beeline to Chua Phat Phap Buddhist Temple. The completed mandala was placed in front of the stage in the sanctuary, which was slowly being filled by a constant stream of Buddhist practitioners and other attendees, patiently waiting for the service to begin. We were informed by the usher that indeed the sand mandala will be destroyed after the service and the sand, filled in small bags to be given to the attendees.

Mom and son at the front compound of Chua Phat Phap Buddhist Temple.

I was able to take a picture of the sand mandala before the service, which looked much more vivid than its black and white half-completed counterpart in the paper. However, I take heed of the significance of the symbolic act of creating and destroying the sand mandala, it being the impermanence of things.

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