Saturday, April 28, 2012


We went back to the Cultural Center this morning - all of us - to watch the ceremony where the sand mandala built by the monks was destroyed and carried to the river.

I should say that we didn't stay for the entire two-hour ceremony. Colden was not fond of the loud music of the horns and the cymbals, and we didn't want to stay so long that he got restless and disturbed the other attendees, so after about forty-five minutes, Tom took him outside to play on the steps of the Cultural Center while I stayed inside.

When we arrived, the monks had already begun the ceremony and were saying prayers. We hung back at first, but I moved closer and Tom stayed with Colden. The Tibetan woman who owns the restaurant and gift shop downtown recognized me and motioned for me to come sit next to her, right behind the monks. Front row seat! I gladly sat and listened to the prayers for about twenty minutes before they started the actual destruction of the mandala.

First, two of the monks donned ceremonial headdresses and walked around the mandala several times, chanting and praying and burning incense. (I didn't take photos of some of the ceremony, because I didn't want to be disrespectful.)

Then one of the monks took a pinch of sand from each of the four sides, or gates, of the mandala and put them into a small brass dish. He set the dish aside, and reached under the table to retrieve two ordinary paint brushes. He handed one of the brushes to the kid who, ironically, walked across the edge of the mandala earlier in the week after it had been finished.

They swept up all the sand, moving inward from the outside edges. All the beautiful designs and intricate patterns - all that WORK - became just a pile of crushed, colored marble in mere seconds. It was beautiful and sad all at the same time.

The pile of sand was then scooped up into a receptacle while the prayers and chanting continued.

And the vase was set on the table and covered with a ceremonial cloth.

At this point, I looked around and realized that Tom and Colden were gone, and I didn't know if Colden was getting cranky or not, so to play it safe, I left the ceremony.

After we were gone, the remaining sand was walked down to the Saranac River and scattered in the water, to bring the wisdom manifest in the making of the mandala to all the creatures of the river, who would in turn pass it on to other sentient beings.

Earlier in the week, one of the coordinators of the program at the Cultural Center had said that the ceremony of the destruction of the mandala was a little bit like a funeral, and he was right. It was sobering to see that intricate piece of art turned into just a pile of sand in only a few seconds, but it did bring home the concept of impermanence.

And not in a bad way, either. All that beautiful beadwork I make? One day, the thread will disintegrate and it will fall apart. The beads will simply just be a pile of beads again. Eventually, even those beads will disintegrate or be crushed and destroyed and will be turned back into their original materials of sand.

On our way down the front path of the Cultural Center, Colden asked if we could get some of the colorful prayer flags that were hung from the building. So we walked over to the Tibetan shop down the block and bought three sets of prayer flags, two for the box elder tree in the backyard and one for his bedroom.

Tomorrow is the farewell feast for the monks at the Tibetan restaurant in Plattsburgh. I wish we could attend, but I don't think we can go with Colden. So, today will be my good-bye to the Buddhist monks, and now it's up to me to put into practice everything I've learned and been inspired by during this last week.

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