A group of Tibetan Monks visited Ohio University Monday through Thursday to construct a peace mandala out of sand, only to then destroy their work and toss it in the Hocking River as a way to spread their message to all living beings.
The Comparative Religions Club and Gawande Organization hosted the Tibetan Monks from the Labrang Tashi Kyil Monastery in Dehra Dun, India, as part of their 2015-2016 USA tour.
In partnership with the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana, seven monks from the monastery are now on their third tour in the U.S. to teach the Dharma and educate the public about Tibetan culture and religion.
“There are three reasons that we came here,” said Tenzin Dawa, one of the visiting monks, “The first being that we need to raise funds for our monastery. Another reason is to share our love and kindness, which is taught by the Buddha. In this materialistic world, we need to know our inner value and peaceful mind. The third reason is that in the 21st century, there are so many people that don’t know about Tibet, so we came here to tell the people exactly what Tibet is. We have our own country, our own religions and our own culture, so we are showing that here”
The monks constructed a sand mandala by hand on the 5th floor of Baker Center, working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
Created within five days, the mandala is a geometric sign used for meditation in Buddhism, and each mandala holds a different meaning.
“In Tibetan Buddhism, there are so many different kinds of sand mandalas,” said Dawa, “Every deity has their own mandala. Mandala means celestial palace. This is a very special mandala. This is not like an ancient as others are. This is a braided mandala by the 14th Dalai Lama a couple of decades ago. He mentioned that we have to remodel from new mandala which is representing the peace and harmony and increase our inner peace.”
The World Peace mandala is drawn on a mythical earth, featuring important images such as The Four Perfect Friends and the Eight Auspicious Symbols. World peace symbols are also created to suit where the mandala is created. The mandala in Baker Center had “Ohio University” written with a bobcat paw in the corner.
“This mandala is meant to represent world peace. The reason it’s made out of sand is so that it can be destroyed as soon as it’s done to represent the impermanence of all things,” said Brian Collins, Drs. Ram and Sushila Gawande Chair in Indian Religion and Philosophy at Ohio University. “Nothing is really real in and of itself. It’s all just made up of constituent parts that can be broken down.”
In addition to the mandala construction, the Monks also put on a Chod Puja and Skeleton Dance, as well as a slideshow on “Buddhism and a Course in Happiness.”
Chod is a spiritual practice known as, “cutting through the ego.” The one who practices Chod seeks to tap into the power of fear and create a sense of victory. That is typically done through rituals that are set in graveyards and by visualizing the offering of flesh in a feast. The Chod tests whether or not we have an understanding of emptiness and impermanence.
The Skeleton Dance, also called the “Dance of the Lords of the Cemetery” celebrates the liberation that comes from practicing the Chod by learning that all things are impermanent, including our bodies and states of mind.
The monks also sold small Tibetan crafts such as prayer flags, bracelets and singing bowls to help raise money for their monastery.
Once the monks finished their mandala, they put on a closing ceremony during which they prayed and destroyed the mandala. The sand was then distributed to those in the crowd who wanted it, and then transported by foot in the rain to be tossed into the Hocking River.
“The destruction is meant to represent the impermanence, so nothing is forever. We put it in the water because the message we got from this particular mandala, we would like to share through the water all over the world, which is love, peace, and compassion,” said Dawa.
According to the monastery’s website, following the destruction of the original Labrang Tashi Kyil Monastery in Amdo, Tibet, the exiled monks rebuilt their monastery in 1967. Presently, the rituals and practices are preserved just as they were before. In addition to their studies of the Dharma, the monastery offers classes in English and Tibetan grammar.
Also, the funds raised through donations and purchases all proceed their monastery in India to house, feed and clothe over 120 refugee monks.
“Our monastery adopted so many kids. The monastery provides them with everything. All of their facilities are provided through us, and their education as well,” said Dawa.