This is what I did yesterday morning, and it left me in a sort of daze -- relatively speaking, for me -- the rest of the day and into the night:
Four Tibetan monks were here in Los Angeles, set up in a pretty little room at the Armand Hammer Museum in Westwood, to create over a two-week period what they call the Mandala of Compassion. They create this beautiful piece of art with grains of sand. The sand is colored with natural dyes and each grain is painstakingly placed on a wooden board where the monks have drawn the shape of the mandala.
According to the wonderful brochure, the purpose of the creation of the mandala is to help the viewer generate boundless compassion for all beings. In the Tibetan tradition, mandalas serve as meditational tools and can be seen as reminders of our innate spiritual potential. Mandalas are also considered beneficial even in relationship to the environment in which they are built -- it is thought that the space becomes permeated by spiritual blessings and that these blessings have a stabilizing effect on outer and inner boundaries.
I felt that.
Before they work on the mandala, the monks foster their intention with puja, which is the act of worship, including prayer and meditation. Puja is intended to bring to the mind the qualities of the Buddha of Compassion, and for over an hour, I participated with the monks by sitting in silence on a mat in the room while they chanted, prayed and played the most wonderful instruments. I felt restless only once or twice during the hour and was, at other times, filled with a deep peace and calm that I have rarely felt even during my own meditation practice. The most memorable part of the hour was during the actual chanting when one of the monks with the deepest baritone made what seemed to me a sound like a swarm of bees, thrumming. It was as if my whole body was filled with this rolling, elemental sound, and it felt both incredibly grounding and ethereal. The monks' faces were at once calm and filled with light and humor. One had a twinkle in his eye.
Afterward, the monks got ready for their work on the mandala, and I stayed for a short time and watched them. The sand is dispersed onto the blueprint through a copper funnel instrument called a zangpur.
The mandala that these monks have chosen to make represents Chenrezig, who is the embodiment of the compassion of all Buddhas combined. She is known by different names in different parts of Buddhist Asia, and the familiar one for me is Kuan-yin. Quan-Yin, how I've always seen it spelled and whose form hangs in my own house, is known, too, as the goddess of mercy.
I can't express how much this all means to me, particularly now. I am just so grateful to have experienced it.
This weekend, when the mandala is completed and the last grain of sand is placed, the entire sand painting will be wiped away and swept up as a display of impermanence. The lamas will bring the collected sand to the ocean with museum visitors and offer it as a blessing.
Mercy, impermanence, compassion -- the vast ocean, waves and tides and blue light and dark depths -- gratitude, peace, calm.