By: Sophie Eng
The crowd stopped talking and the only sounds came from the deep voices of two monks, dressed head to toe in orange. Standing in front of an intricate sand mandala, all eyes were on them as they chanted prayers of gratitude in a language that sparked intrigue. There was a beauty to all of it; an understanding between everyone in the room, that what was taking place was sacred.
This feeling is what made the Sacred Space of Elon’s Numen Lumen Pavilion, the perfect place for these men to open a small window into the Buddhist culture.
The mandala–full of incredible detail and eye-catching colors–is a Buddhist symbol meant to bring about a positive energy in our increasingly materialistic world. As the eager audience watched on, the monks followed tradition, destroying this three-day masterpiece, in a closing ceremony.
The dedication that was put into this work of art is evident in the incredible attention to detail. It’s almost hard to watch when they begin to sweep away the sand. A murmur went through the audience, even though they knew the destruction was being made as a declaration of the impermanence of material life.
“It’s almost as if these men are a prism, and all of the energy [they’ve put in] has come through that prism, right into this monument,” said Elise Strevel, outreach coordinator at the Kadampa Center.
Prior to the ceremony, Strevel emphasized the importance of the healing process that is meant to take place in the spectator’s mind, as they watch the mandala being both constructed and destroyed. According to Buddhist tradition, the many colors are meant to create a positive mindset, while
addressing the contrast between timeless compassion and temporary materials.
The Making of a Clean Slate
Morgan Baker, the daughter of an Elon faculty member, came from Greensboro to watch the closing ceremony. She’s been taking a Tibetan Buddhism course at Guilford College, and finds the religion and it’s traditions quite fascinating.
“I think it’s really cool to be able to practice non-attachment, especially in our society, where we’re attached to so many things,” Baker said after having watched the ceremony, “This tradition shows us the importance of washing away [our worries], and having a clean slate.”
The monks do just that, as they begin to sweep away the sand. Most of the colorful grains go into bags for the students to take home, as a small entity of what took place.
Strevel explains that some of the sand, is instead placed into jars, which are to be “spread out in different areas of the ocean.”
The symbolic sweeping began as the monks pushed the sand towards the middle, before asking students to join in the process. The colors were swirled together, until the intricate designs were gone, and the message of impermanence was made.
From there the grains of sand are moved from the ocean, to the streams, the rivers, the lakes around the world, and eventually back down to earth through the rain. The whole concept is refreshing, in the way that it encompasses the purity and continuation of life.
Photography by Sophie Eng