Tibetan Sand Mandala at the NSA
by Virginia MacKenny
In marked contrast to the 'Acceptability' forum, during the week of September 11 four Buddhist monks from the Nechung Monastery in Dharamsala, India, arrived in Durban
to construct a Chenrezig sand mandala, which symbolises 'Compassion' at the NSA Gallery. This is the first sand mandala to be created in KwaZulu Natal and the third constructed in Africa (the second was at Sandton in Johannesburg for the World Summit on Sustainable Development).
Facilitated by the Tibet Society of South Africa, the process took a week of careful work. Throughout the mandala's construction the monks must remain constantly mindful and attentive and as they work, they try to arouse feelings of love, compassion and altruism. When creating different parts of the mandala they contemplate its symbolism, as their wish is to give happiness to those who see it thereby generating positive energy.
Of all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, a mandala (sacred circle) 'painted' with coloured sand ranks one of the most unique and exquisite. Millions of grains of coloured sand are painstakingly laid into place to form a design, or cosmogram of which there are many types. Formed from a traditional prescribed iconography that includes geometrical shapes and a multitude of ancient spiritual symbols, the sand-painted mandala is used as a tool for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants.
The closing ceremony involved chanting, the dissolution of the sand painting and its return to water. This breaking up of an object that has taken such concentrated energy in its production is done to emphasise that all things coming into existence through causes and conditions are impermanent.