Friday, October 9, 2009

Mandala of the Buddha of Compassion

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is hosting 4 Tibetan monks from The Gaden Jangtse Thoesam Norling Monastery in India are who are spending 3 weeks here creating a sand mandala of the Buddha of Compassion (Chenrezig in Tibetan, Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit). We are fortunate here in Victoria as this is at least the third time a sand mandala has been created at the gallery. The first time we saw it must have been about 20 years ago and when our daughter was maybe 7 or 8. At the time the monks gave the children present little bits of the sand to take away.

Each Mandala they make is done from memory and has a specific purpose. The one this time seems very auspicious, the Buddha of Compassion, meant "to encourage everyone of us to generate a compassionate heart for the benefit of all sentient beings". Each element of the mandala has a specific meaning and when you see the size and detail of it, you can't help but know it is packed with meaning.

Not a details person, nor someone focused on the iconography I love to just go and bask in the presence of the monks, the art work and the folks who come to sit. One of the great perks for me is that I have an art gallery membership and live 10 minutes from the gallery so I can go everyday if I like. I have been 3 times this week and hope to go many more times before they finish.

The day starts with a half hour of chanting and meditation. Just to be able to come for this alone is amazing. There is an energy in the gallery that is palpable. Yesterday the crowd contained a former monk wearing his black raksu (Buddhist bib!) and an older lady with a troop of 7 little people. Now there's a daycare for your kids! One that takes them to see Tibetan monks chanting. Not a peep came out of these glowing, translucent little beings as they watched the monks. It was quite heart warming. Today I sat next to a young woman with a toddler and a babe in arms. There is something quite special for me to see these little people being exposed to these lovely monks. My imagination wanders off ... well maybe they were monks in a former life. I can't help sneaking peaks at them as they watch. When the chanting began I watched the babe in arms and although he had been squirming and looking around he stopped. He looked like he might cry at the deep throaty sound of the chanting but he simply sat quite wide eyed. When he started to fidget again, mom simply nursed him and they stayed for the whole half hour sitting.

The group was varied but attentive, an attractive young lesbian couple, a fellow I recognized as a local bookstore owner, several women with canes and a gaggle of us oldsters. Some closed their eyes and sat in meditation, some just watched the chanting and the bells, the cymbals the hand mudras. So much to drink in. Yesterday a friend was there and we had a post mandala coffee in the village (there's always time for coffee). Today a woman I recognized from last year's qi gong class stopped for a chat. Social, spiritual and creative all rolled into one. What a delightful package.

The sand mandalas, as well as symbolizing certain aspects of practice are all about impermanence. Three weeks of painstaking, back wrenching work is undertaken by these monks as an act of meditation and contemplation. When the beautiful intricate work is completed from memory, it is not sprayed and preserved and hung on the wall. It is not sold or auctioned off. A ceremony where it is destroyed follows and then it is swept into the ocean. Now there's some non attachment for you!

If you live nearby I encourage you to go see this amazing work in action or if you have the opportunity to see one elsewhere I recommend it heartily. It speaks to so many longings in our life, our longing for the spiritual, the creative and for that sense of community. You can't help but feel connected to those around you in the energetic field generated at a gathering like this. There is something really heart warming about the mix of people that an event like this brings together. People sit with humility and patience in awe of the process and the unavoidable experience of impermanence. No one is honking, or pushing, or needing or talking. Everyone in the room is just being and when they have drunk their fill the can simply walk round and enjoy the accompanying Tibetan art in the gallery or walk out in the autumn streets lined with giant golden chestnut trees.

Happy Thanksgiving to us Canucks and if you live elsewhere, it may not be your holiday weekend but, well, you can never give thanks to often!

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