Change is the only constant in life. It can be inspiring, motivating, exhausting and scary. According to Buddhist practice, change or impermanence is the essential characteristic of all existence. The Buddhists suggest that nothing is lasting, even in the moment everything is undergoing change. All is fleeting, the beauty of a flower, the sunset the leaves on the trees are in a continuous state of change. What is real is the existing moment, the present.
Mandala is a Sanskrit word for circle. The sand Mandala is constructed as a vehicle to recognize impermanence, to develop concentration and compassion. Millions of colored sand is placed on a platform over a period of days or even weeks. Traditionally when finished to symbolize the impermanence of life, the sands are swept up and poured into an urn to be poured into a nearby river or stream.
Last week I had the privilege of seeing Tibetan Monks create a Sand Mandala at Penn State Berks County in Reading Pa. My son was home sick that day, and since he did not have a fever I took him along. Driving to the event I felt disappointed that I didn’t have all three boys with me. I realized that this was something special and a learning experience they wouldn’t find at school. But I didn’t have the foresight so only had my one semi sick guy.
This was my first time on campus and we easily found the cafeteria. There was a table outside with prayer beads, prayer flags, books and other items for sale. The Mandala was in a roped off area in the cafeteria. There were 3 or 4 Monks working with focus when we arrived. We watched as they tapped on metal tubes (Chak-pur) to create the lines. Their work was intricate and beautiful. They answered my questions happily and seemed quite at peace in the center of the loud student filled cafeteria. Students stopped by to browse and my son and I got to experience something extraordinary. I talked to him about the concept of impermanence and its something he understood.
When we were telling his brothers about the event, one of them asked “What did the Monks have on their feet?” I thought this was an interesting question, but I guess they have the image in their mind of bald men in maroon robes in bare feet or sandals. I hadn’t noticed, but Owen did. He said “one guy had on nice shoes like Dad wears to work” He noticed their feet, but I’m sure he noticed much more. What an experience for an 11 year old and for me too!