Madison College recently hosted a group of Tibetan Buddhist Monks who demonstrated mandala sand painting. (Adrienne Oliva / Clarion)
Madison College recently hosted a group of Tibetan Buddhist Monks who demonstrated mandala sand painting.

Adrienne Oliva / Clarion

Monks create their artwork in Truax Campus Gateway

April 4, 2018

Multiple Monks work hours at a time hunched over a black table to create a mandala painting entirely made of sand.

They prove their patience for their craft through the scraping of their Chak-purs. They scrape hard enough to assure just a few granules of sand come out at a time to put in the precise location of the design they are bringing to life together.

The Monks only take breaks from their hunched position to refill their Chak-purs with a new color of sand. After choosing between an arrangement of deeply saturated and vibrantly colored bowls of sand, the Monks resume their position hunched at the table, back to working with ardent concentration.

And when the sand painting is finally finished, they destroy it.

Recently, Madison College hosted a group of Tibetan Buddhist Monks who created a mandala sand painting for the school.

The Mandala Sand Painters were brought to the college by two different Madison College organizations. Both United Common Ground and the Office of Equity and Inclusion were pleased to host the Monks as they created their art for the college.

Ro Encizo, the advisor of United Common Ground, explains that inviting the Monks to the college represented a “learning opportunity for (the students) and the entire campus.”

Students not only had the opportunity to learn about another culture, but to be inspired by the dedication of the Monks.

“I would describe the Mandala sand painters as dedicated, focused… I don’t know if intense is the right word,” joked Encizo, “But they are very dedicated to what they are doing right now. I mean, they are here literally from 10-6, and they are here all week long […], and somebody is working 10-6 everyday of this week. You know, think about that, that is an eight-hour work day, and all you are doing is dropping little grains of sand onto a table.”

To celebrate the purpose of Madison College, the Monks decided to create a mandala dedicated to knowledge.

“Since this is school, everyone peruses knowledge, so we created the Manjushri mandala, which is the god of wisdom,” explained Richen Kushab, one of the Tibetan Buddhist Monks who worked on the sand painting at Madison College.

The Tibetan Buddhist Monks follow a particular routine of events to create their mandala sand painting.
“The first step is the opening ceremonies,” explains Kushab.

“We receive the permission from local authorities and local spirits we cannot see, but occupy the space […] We request the local spirit to give us the permission to build the mandala, and bless this area. Then we can build the mandala on this soil, on this earth.”

From there, the sand painters devote 8 consecutive hours a day meticulously placing the brightly colored sand in the correct spots to create the mandala. It takes extreme precision and dedication to place the sand correctly.

“When we complete the mandala, we are going to destroy it,” said Kushab.

To some people at Madison College, such as Encizo, the concept of destroying something you put a lot of effort into seems unfamiliar, and even uncomfortable.

“It’s a very unique feeling,” explained Encizo. “Think about working on a very large project, like a labor intensive project, and at the end of it, just destroying it, getting rid of it. I think of when I was a student, and writing a 10-12-page paper, and then one time, my computer literally crashed and I lost all of it. It was probably one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had, just knowing I just worked so hard on something.”

Ultimately, however, the Monks find more meaning in their work by destroying it at the end of its creation.
“It represents that things end,” said Encizo. “It’s supposed to represent that a little bit, that some things can be created, and they can also be destroyed.”

After the destruction of the mandala made at Madison College, some community members got to take home a special gift to commemorate the work of the Monks.

“We collect the sand into small plastic bags, and give it to the audience as blessings,” Kushab said.

The rest of the sand, however, will be brought with them to their next destination to be poured into the closest body of water that connects to an ocean.

“We believe every sands carries the energy that is blessed by Manjushri himself, and spread across the world, and touch the environment and sentient beings and purify their negative influence,” said Kushab.

In addition to creating the mandala sand painting, the monks also hosted two different lectures. While one of the lectures was about the symbolism of the mandala sand painting, another lecture was about the practice of Mindfulness. During this lecture, about 20 students had the opportunity to be led in breathing and meditation practices by the visiting Monks.

“It’s not every day you’re going to be learning about mindfulness and meditation from an actual Monk,” said Encizo.

Between the mandala sand painting demonstration and the mindfulness teachings, Encizo believes that the monks offered not only a cultural learning experience for the Madison College community, but also an opportunity to connect with their environment.

“Right now, for a lot of our students, is middle of the semester, which middle of the semester could mean mid-terms, it means stressful time trying to make sure you are getting ready to register for next semester, its busy for our students,” said Encizo. “It sounds so cliché and I know that, but the amount of times I’ve come down here to watch the Monks work for even a minute is just so peaceful.”

“This gives you actually a moment to take time out of your day to actually appreciate the surroundings,” he said.
According to Kushab, that was the main goal of visiting Madison College.

“We built this mandala to inspire people, you know, more peaceful, more connected to your life,” said Kushab.

“We might get stressed because we get too much attached to things that belong to us […] It can be negative, and it causes unhappiness inside yourself. And it affects you and the people around you,” said Kushab.

“The mandala itself is peaceful tool that’ll make people gather together and to more connect with each other, and inspire them to seek wisdom,” said Kushab.

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