Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Dissolution of the Mandala

This is something that I've been meaning to post about for quite a while now but at the time, I was going through some turmoil in personal life and didn't have the motivation to really sit down and write until now.  Better late than never, right?

As you may know (if you happen to be someone who knows me personally), I spent the entire week of this past New Year's Eve (Dec. 27, 2011 to Jan. 3, 2012) attending the Woodford Folk Festival in Woodford, Queensland.  I could spend about a week straight writing about all of the amazing things I experienced in Woodfordia but today I want to talk about one particular experience that made me ponder.

On New Year's day, the last official day of the festival, the resident group of Tibetan Monks performed a dissolution ceremony for the sand mandala that they had spent the past six days carefully constructing.  Now before I tell you about the ceremony, let me tell you a little bit of what I know about mandalas.

'Mandala' is a Sanskrit word which can be translated to 'circle'.  Mandalas are usually either square or circular and contain four gates.  They are also usually symmetrical and concentric in design.  Here is another excerpt from Wikipedia because they do a better job of explaining things than I do:

"A kyil khor (Tibetanདཀྱིལ་འཁོརWyliedkyil 'khor), Tibetan for mandala in Vajrayana Buddhism usually depicts a landscape of the "Buddha-land", or the enlightened vision of a Buddha, which inevitably represents the nature of experience and the intricacies of both the enlightened and confused mind, or "a microcosm representing various divine powers at work in the universe."[5] Such mandalas consist of an outer circular mandala and an inner square (or sometimes circular) mandala with an ornately decorated mandala "palace"[12] placed at the center. Any part of the inner mandala can be occupied by Buddhist glyphs and symbols,[13] as well as by images of its associated deities, which "symbolise different stages in the process of the realisation of the truth."

If you would like to read more about the symbolism and meaning behind mandalas, please visit the Wikipedia page by clicking here.  I am by no means an expert on religion of any sort and it doesn't seem appropriate to copy and paste an entire article into my blog.

Anyways, here is a close up photo of a sand mandala that looks very similar to the one that the monks made at Woodford.  This photo was also found on Wikipedia.  You can see how intricate and beautiful these designs are.  You can also tell that I'm a big fan of doing my research on Wikipedia.  Mostly because I'm lazy.

The dissolution ceremony, like the one performed at the festival, is a meditation on the impermanence of life. At Woodford, the monks gathered in one of the performance venues along with all of the many spectators.  After some speeches and other ceremonial tidbits, the monks swept their days of hard work into a big, brightly colored pile and placed it in a container.  They then carried the sand through the festival streets in a procession that involved plenty of horn blowing and cymbal crashing (if anyone happens to know the names of these instruments or the container that the sand is carried in, please let me know).  

Here is a crude video of the procession that I took while I followed the monks to the river.  The person that I'm talking to in the background is my good friend James, who I met on the first day of the festival.

The dissolution of the mandala was a very poignant event and got me to pondering over the impermanence of life just as it was intended to do.  People, especially those who live in developed countries spend their whole lives carefully crafting their own little world, their own intricate, colorful mandala.  They gather around them their possessions, the people that they love, and create their own identity hoping to somehow distinguish themselves from the billions of other people who are out there doing the exact same thing.  They decorate their homes, their cars, and their bodies with the things that define them as an individual.  But, when all is said and done, every person must eventually pass from this world and on to whatever exists or doesn't exist beyond it.  In the end, each person's carefully crafted 'mandala' is swept away like the sands of the mandala and gently disappears from existence.  

Now I know that this makes it sound like I have a rather bleak view of things but I really don't mean it that way at all.  The dissolution ceremony presented the ephemeral nature of the human life not as something to be mourned and dreaded, but as something that is made all the more lovely and sacred because it is so temporary.  To me, this ceremony is telling us as a human race that we should cherish the time that we have and never waste as single 'grain' of it because all too soon it will all be gone.  

Now, on that note, here are some photos that I took of the actual ceremony and mandala.  Sorry that most of them are not very clear.  I had to stand on a chair to see over all the people and also had to zoom in very close to capture the details.

Isn't it a beautiful thing?  It's another cold, gray day here today.  I'm about to go for a jog and then do some holiday planning before I have to report for duty at the Dingo Beach Pub.  I hope that you are happy and well, wherever in the world you may be.



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