Saturday was a dreary pouring-down-rain Oregon day. Lunch with a friend was canceled because she had a cold. The flu is settling over the city as damp, moist and wet find lodging in the lungs of local residents. In search of an alternative plan, I drove to the downtown library and climbed those majestic marble stairs to the top floor, where monks from a monastery in South India were making a sand mandala. It was so exciting to see the entire lobby festooned with prayer flags, a large picture of the Dalai Lama and the rich burgundy of the monk’s robes. Music enriched the space as children busied themselves filling in duplicate mandalas with crayons. Adults stood enraptured and awestruck at the artistic mastery before them.  

I stood inches from a monk who rasped a metal funnel, releasing finely colored grains of sand into a four foot creation of universal compassion. The concentration and focus on his work was total and complete. I noticed other monks along the wall and decided to visit, being drawn by their open-hearted smiles. I was having quite a conversation about Tibetan art and their tour through the United States, enjoying a complete sense of grace in their presence, when I began to realize they couldn’t understand a word I was saying.  I grinned and walked away, grateful for the moment.

Thirty years ago I had a meditation teacher on a ten day retreat who left a similar impression. She’d been the only survivor in a room of one hundred people after a bomb dropped. When I sat with her, everything became more pronounced. I could see the air, leaves on trees lit with life, exploding in shades of vibrant green; the wind between us seemed tangible. That was the feeling I got in the presence of the monks today. I wanted to crawl in their suitcase and spend time in Tibet. 

They were visiting from the Drepung Loseling Phukhang Monastery (if you can pronounce that, you’re a better person than I am) finishing in Portland today, with a consecration ceremony, then on to La Verkin, Utah. The mandala will be swept away after 21 hours of devoted work, to symbolize impermanence, then placed in the river to send healing energy throughout the world. It is said that wherever a sand mandala is created, all beings and the surrounding environment are blessed, and whoever views it experiences peace and joy in their hearts.

“The colorfulness and harmony of the millions of sand particles in the mandala gives a powerful message that we all can live in peace if each of us work to create a little more space for others in our hearts. Children in particular receive a very positive imprint which will later germinate as sprouts of peace.”

 

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