This video from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly features Tibetan Buddhist monks constructing and destroying a sand mandala, a circular diagram of intricate shapes and symbols used to facilitate meditation. The creation of a sand mandala can take days or weeks, as millions of grains of colored sand are laid into place to form a representation of Buddha's divine palace. After its completion, in a process that takes no more than a few minutes, the mandala is destroyed -- an act symbolizing the impermanence of life.
Buddhism Glossary (Document)
The three main vehicles, or paths, in Buddhism are Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Vajrayana Buddhism, also known as Tibetan Buddhism and the "diamond vehicle," emerged in India as an intersection of Mahayana and Theravada precepts, with Hindu influences. From northern India it migrated to Tibet where it fully developed and fused with Bon, a shamanic native tradition.
Central to Tibetan Buddhism is the belief that all sentient beings are endowed with an enlightened essence, and all thought and action should be geared toward manifesting it to help others also become enlightened. The Buddha taught that the path to enlightenment is through adherence to the four noble truths:
The truth that life is suffering.
The truth that desire causes suffering.
The truth that there is a way to end suffering.
The truth that the way to end suffering is to follow the Eightfold Path of Buddha.
All Tibetan Buddhism is based on these truths, as well as the principle of interdependence: Everything that is experienced results from a complex interplay of causes and conditions. Happiness and suffering, for example, do not arise without cause. Buddhists believe that when the interdependence of all things is fully realized, there is nothing to desire or resent, and suffering ends.
Tibetan Buddhist thought also stresses that the true nature of life is empty, and nothing is permanent. Once these beliefs are actualized, worldly attachments are easier to shed, and the path to enlightenment becomes clearer.
The law of karma, defined as the law of cause and effect, guides Tibetan Buddhists. An action that results in suffering is believed to be negative or evil, while one that results in happiness is believed to be positive or virtuous. Suffering and happiness produced by thoughts and deeds can be experienced in this life or the next, if one has not reached enlightenment and is compelled to rebirth.
KAREN HUMPHRIES SALLICK (Tibetan Buddhist Practitioner): The mandala is a teaching and meditation tool so that we can focus on evoking in ourselves the Buddha nature that we Buddhists believe you have inside you.
A sand mandala is made typically from precious stones that have been hand ground and then hand-dyed. The sand goes in a funnel. They'll rub it and the sand will come out. That's how they put these layers of sand down to create these beautiful, spiritual forms of art.
One can use the mandala as an aid to meditation helping you through the process of eliminating emotions that are unhelpful to you so that you can then uncover and evoke what's in the center.
There are thousands of mandalas. And in fact, even for one type of mandala, there are several ways to do it, depending on how much time the monks have. You can take five days. You can take a month to build a mandala. Every aspect of the mandala has meaning.
The very center is the representation of Chenrezig, the Buddha of compassion. Tibetan Buddhists actually believe that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of Chenrezig.
The next ring outside of the central figure of compassion are representations of four different Buddhas. The Buddha for eliminating hatred is represented by a thunderbolt. Then, we have a jewel that represents the deity that can eliminate suffering. Then we have a wheel of knowledge or dharma, the deity that represents the elimination of ignorance. And then, the last is a green sword that cuts through jealousy.
The next circle are lotus leaves. If you've ever seen a statue of a Buddha, they are often sitting on a lotus flower. So the family of Buddhas that are represented in the center are sitting in a ring of lotus.
Then outside of that is the vadra ring of protection from negative thoughts.
Finally, in the very outside ring, fire. And that fire is to burn through ignorance to enlightenment.
The dissolution is actually a very important part of the mandala process because it really is showing the nature of impermanence. As Westerners, we get so attached to things. So, here's this beautiful mandala that these monks have worked five days on. And, with no emotion whatsoever, they reach their hand into the middle and just mess it up. And then, they'll sweep it up with brushes and they'll place it into a vase.
The mandala will be brought to the water. The deities in the mandala will then go into the water as a blessing, back to the earth.
The Tibetans believe that anyone who watches the building and dissolution of a mandala actually accumulates merit, and can begin to evoke that Buddha nature, being the most compassionate we can be.
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