Public invited to observe Buddhist monks’ construction of a sand mandala at Syracuse University
Members of the Syracuse University and greater Syracuse communities will have the opportunity next week to observe the construction of a sand mandala, a complex symbolic structure that is associated with the most profound and elaborate Buddhist ceremonies in Tibet.
Venerable Dhondup Gyaltsen and Venerable Lobsang Tashi, monks in residence at the Namgyal Monastary Institute in Ithaca, will construct the mandala in the Eggers Commons at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs on the SU campus from Monday, Sept. 21, to Friday, Sept. 25.
The public is welcome to come and watch the construction take place each day, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (lunch break between noon and 1 p.m. each day). It will also be streamed live at http://www1.maxwell.syr.edu/mandala. On Friday, Sept. 25, at 3 p.m., the mandala will be ritually destroyed, with its auspicious sands released into Hookway Pond at Barry Park.
The mandala construction is sponsored by The College of Arts and Sciences and the South Asia Center in the Maxwell School.
The mandala construction precedes the Sept. 24 and 25 performances by Shen Wei Dance Arts, part of the University Shared First-Year Experience for first-year and transfer students; the Milton First-Year Lecture of the First-Year Forum in The College of Arts and Sciences; and Syracuse Symposium. “Re- (I,II,III),” the triptych that Shen Wei Dance Arts will be performing, begins with a mandala (made from confetti) on stage. The mandala construction in Eggers will display the intricate work that goes into the creation of the mandala and help observers understand the significance of the dismantling of it.
A Cultural Diplomacy Symposium will kick off the week of events on Sept. 20-21. For more information, visit http://www.syr.edu/news/articles/cultural-diplomacy-09-09.html.
The Chenrezing mandala is one of many constructed by the monks of Namgyal. The mandala represents the residence of five deities—the Chenrezig Buddha in the foremost center, the Akshobhya Buddha in the East, the Ratnasambhava Buddha in the South, the Vairocana Buddha in the West and the Amoghasiddhi Buddha in the North. These deities represent different aspects of overcoming the five delusions of ignorance, anger, attachment, jealousy and pride. It helps to bring the message of generating compassion for all suffering sentient beings, and that of overcoming anger and hatred.
Although the mandala is made on a flat surface, it is, to the devout, a three-dimensional palace representing the mind of Buddha. And although the construction is a long and disciplined effort, the mandala is a temporary work. When the monks are finished, the deity is released in a dissolution ceremony and the sand cast into a body of water to emphasize the importance of all things and the importance of detachment. When the sand enters the water, the kindness and compassion of the deity are disseminated into the world to benefit all things.
Born in Tibet in 1944, Venerable Gyaltsen had become a monk by the age of nine. To avoid religious persecution, he escaped from Tibet in 1959. He then joined Namgyal Monastery in 1963 where he completed his monastic studies in 1967. Venerable Gyaltsen was the first monk to join and complete monastic training in exile at Namgyal Monastery, the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama. From 1981-84 Venerable Gyaltsen served as chaplain for the Tibetan Army. He also served in varied capacities, including discipline master of the Namgyal Monastery, upholding proper protocols and customs.
In 1988, on his first trip to the United States, Venerable Gyaltsen, along with Lobsang Samten, demonstrated the Kalachakra Mandala Sand Painting at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Venerable Gyaltsen continued his travels in 1991, constructing sand mandalas in Russia, France, Africa, and Mongolia with the Dalai Lama. In 1992, Venerable Gyaltsen was one of four founding monks who started the Ithaca, NY, branch of Namgyal Monastery, where he taught religious studies. In 1999, Venerable Gyaltsen made Maui, Hawaii, his permanent home, where he helped to create the Tashi Pendey Foundation. Venerable Gyaltsen works to raise funds and awareness in support of Tibetan children, elders, nuns, and monks living in exile and continues to direct the Tibetan Cultural Conservancy on the island of Maui, which supports cultural preservation through the teaching and practice of Dharma.
Venerable Lobsang Tashi became a refugee in Bhutan in 1960 as a result of the 1959 Chinese invasion of Tibet. Becoming a monk at the age of 9, he studied reading, writing and memorization of Buddhist texts. In 1979, Tashi relocated to Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India, where he enrolled in the 13-year Namgyal Tantric College curriculum, earning the degree of Master of Buddhist Sutra and Tantra. This curriculum requires extensive study of academic subjects (Buddhist epistemology, logic, debate, ethics and meditation) and ritual arts (music and chanting, dance, esoteric and tantric practices). For 14 years, Tashi served as secretary at Namgyal-India, traveling at times to Japan and Europe to create sand mandalas. He then worked at the Namgyal branch in Bodhgaya, India, for three years, after which, from 2004-07, he cared for the elderly in Shimla, India. In October 2007, Tashi arrived in Ithaca as part of a contingency of monks who created the sand mandala at Cornell University’s Johnson Museum of Art and chanted at events during the Dalai Lama’s visit. He continues as a Namgyal Institute resident monk and as a teacher of Buddhist philosophy and texts, roles which draw upon his earlier Namgyal-India training.
Related items are available for purchase at the bookstore with all proceeds to go to the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, New York .