From all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and exquisite. Millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks to form the image of a mandala.
To date, the Drepung Loseling monks have created mandala sand paintings in more than 100 museums, art centers, and colleges and universities in the United States and Europe.
The Tibetan mandala is a tool for gaining wisdom and compassion and generally is depicted as a tightly balanced, geometric composition wherein deities reside. The principal deity is housed in the center. The mandala serves as a tool for guiding individuals along the path to enlightenment.
Monks meditate upon the mandala, imagining it as a three-dimensional palace. The deities who reside in the palace embody philosophical views and serve as role models. The mandala’s purpose is to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones.
The Sand Mandala
Mandalas constructed from sand are unique to Tibetan Buddhism and are believed to effect purification and healing. Typically, a great teacher chooses the specific mandala to be created. Monks then begin construction of the sand mandala by consecrating the site with sacred chants and music.
Next, they make a detailed drawing from memory. Over a number of days, they fill in the design with millions of grains of colored sand. At its completion, the mandala is consecrated. The monks then enact the impermanent nature of existence by sweeping up the colored grains and dispersing them in flowing water.
How Mandalas Heal
According to Buddhist scripture, sand mandalas transmit positive energies to the environment and to the people who view them. While constructing a mandala, Buddhist monks chant and meditate to invoke the divine energies of the deities residing within the mandala. The monks then ask for the deities’ healing blessings. A mandala’s healing power extends to the whole world even before it is swept up and dispersed into flowing water—a further expression of sharing the mandala’s blessings with all.
The Tibetan mandalas are deceptively simple. They might look like they’re made up of basic patterns, but are extremely complex and might take weeks to complete. Buddhist monks undergo years of training before they can make a mandala. So before a mandala is made, a monk will spend time in philosophical and artistic study. Once a sufficient level of understanding has been reached, the mandala is created.
In the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama, the Nyamgal monastery, monks spend about three years studying before making the mandala.
Sand Mandala Gallery
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