Six Tibetan Buddhist monks from southern India came to the public library here, to create a sand mandala. This is a Buddhist “icon”, of sorts, a sacred work of art made entirely of finely ground colored sand particles. The colors applied through metal funnels, which are rasped to release a fine stream of sand.
The process took 3 days. They began with chants, mantra recitations, and music to bless the area. The purpose of the mandala was to bring blessing, harmony and peace to the world. They drew the design on a black tabletop, and began to apply the sand, bit by bit. They worked in contemplative silence. The only sound was the steady rasping/grating noise of the tools. The onlookers were largely quiet as well, coming and going, watching, taking photos.
Slowly the mandala took shape. The colors were intensely bright, the design intricate and complex.
The monks worked all day Friday, all day Saturday, and most of the day on Sunday. They began at the center, worked outwards.
By 4 p.m. Sunday, the work was complete. It was beautiful to see. A crowd gathered. The monks again chanted, played musical instruments, and recited mantras. One stepped forward and “cut” the mandala as if slicing a pizza. He then took a brush, and began sweeping the artwork towards the center, in spiraling motions.
Within minutes, the entire piece had been deconstructed, reduced to pile of colored grit on a tabletop.
After all that work.
And that was the point.
One of the tenets of Buddhism is the impermanence of all creation. Another is the non-attachment to material things. The important thing here was the creating of beauty and harmony, not the preciousness of a finished product. The soul is touched through the beauty and the act of creating, not through the desire to hang on to things.
I thought of this in terms of my iconography, the fussing I go through sometimes to get it just right. I do at times allow it to become too precious, and need to keep in mind that it is the work of the Spirit that is important, not the perfection of my drawings and brushstrokes. The prayer is what matters, the journey of the soul. Although there are certainly many differences between this Buddhist sand painting and a Christian icon in purpose, philosophy and form, there was still this lesson in detachment and the value of process over product for me to see concretely demonstrated, to learn from for my own spiritual journey.