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Tibetan Monks Bring Gift of Compassion to Clark

Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India constructed a sand mandala from Jan. 13-17, in the Cannell Library. 

“The reason we are constructing this mandala is the sufferings and conflicts that are going around,” said monk Venerable Lobsang Dawa through translator Lobsang Dhondup. “The construction benefits a little bit in creating world peace.”

Dawa is a resident teacher at the Dharma Light Tibetan Buddhist Center in Vancouver, which was started in late 2018. 

The construction began with an opening ceremony involving a prayer through chanting and music. The monks wore headdresses made of 1,000 strings to represent the Buddha of compassion’s 1,000 eyes and 1,000 hands, said Dhondup. 

“When you build a house or something you need permission from the city,” said Dawa about the prayer. “Creating this mandala is like a mansion for the buddha. We’re asking permission from the land.”

A monk leans over a partly built sand mandala with an altar to the Dalai Lama in the background.
The second day of mandala construction (Cat Duque/The Indy)

Catherine Wilson is a member of the Dharma Light Tibetan Buddhist Center and helps to organize the construction of sand mandalas across the US. 

“The effort is always to bring compassion to the region,” Wilson said. “It’s a very powerful method.”

Wilson said it was entirely a coincidence that the mandala event occurred the same week as the faculty strike. “This will be a benefit to everyone. It calms everything,” Wilson said. “It’s a very happy coincidence.”

The Drepung Loseling Monastery will be constructing a few sand mandalas across the United States. Clark College was their only stop in the Pacific Northwest. 

The mandala was created using different vibrantly colored sands made from marble and dyes. Each different color represents a different element or energy, said Dawa. At the front of the room was an altar to the Dalai Lama, blessing the space. Seven bowls held water, representing the seven mantras. Other bowls held water for washing hands and feet.

an alter table holds bowls of water, rice, incense, and flowers. The alter to the Dalai Lama holds a photo of him.
An altar to the Dalai Lama blesses the space, holding symbolic objects. (Matthew Fields/The Indy)

 At the center of the bowls were offerings of flowers, apples, incense and candles. Dawa and Dhondup explained that each bowl held an offering for different senses. The flower and incense provide a beautiful smell, the apple offers a good taste and the candle illuminates the darkness. 

Construction of the sand mandala continued throughout the week. On Friday, the mandala was finished and a closing ceremony occurred.

A large crowd gathers around the mandala in the library for the closing ceremony
The closing ceremony attracted a large crowd from the community. (Matthew Fields/The Indy)

“The closing ceremony closes an entire week of work that the monks have done,” said Jody Shulnak, associate director of International Programs at Clark. “They will sweep the sand away, feel free to gasp if you need to,” she said. 

A lotus flower was placed at the center of the mandala before it was swept away. The white flower grows in a swamp and represents purity in the midst of filth, said Dhondup. The monks then slowly wiped away their work. 

“What does it mean that at the end of this beautiful mandala, we just destroy it?” said Dhondup. “Even if you have a good life now, it can be changed at any time. Nothing is permanent, that’s the essence of creating the mandala.”

A monk brushes away an intricate sand mandala
After five days of construction, the mandala is swept away as a sign of impermanence. (Matthew Fields/The Indy)

Some of the sand was distributed to those in attendance. The remaining sand was disbursed at the Vancouver Waterfront Park to spread compassion and peace to the rest of the region.

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