Mandala

Okay, so I did not quite get around to writing my first gratitude blog on Monday, which was the day I had in mind for it.  But, I did, nevertheless, have a gratitude-filled Monday!

I was sick that day,  and spent it sitting on the couch, snuggling with my dog and my boyfriend, who was also sick. When I first came out to the living room that morning, he was already there, watching a documentary about the current Dalai Lama.

I got drawn in to this artful portrayal of the mistreatment of the Tibetan people at the hands of the Chinese government.  The premise of the documentary was an interview with the Dalai Lama, in which he answered ten questions put to him.  The documentary was also a sort of biography of the Dalai Lama and his role in the Tibetan struggle.  The Dalai Himself is pretty funny to watch, because he giggles at the end of pretty much everything he says.  His secretary, as well as other monks, also lent themselves to the telling of the tale.  Most moving, though, were the faces of all the ordinary Tibetans, passing through the range of emotions, but, more often than not, smiling broadly.  It was noted throughout the documentary that often the poor find the greatest ease in taking pleasure in the simple things in life, which are easy for us to take for granted.  The more you accumulate in the material world, the more cares you have, and the more unhappiness (not true for everyone, but it is common, I think).

The most meaningful moment for me, in this moving account, was the description of the mandala.  The mandala is a symbol with spiritual meaning in both Buddhist and Hindu traditions.  It can be represented via many different artistic media.  According to Wikipedia, “The basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the shape of a T.”  Also, mandalas are made up of complex geometric patterns, and a riot of color.

In the case of the documentary, the mandala was a sand mandala, made of pulverized white stone, which had been dyed in a rainbow of colors.  Tibetan Buddhist monks drew out the pattern of the mandala on the intended surface, and then painstakingly filled each delineated area with the color of sand which had been chosen.  The whole process took a team of monks about a month.

Here is an example of a sand mandala:

But here is the really wonderful thing about these sand mandalas.  They are works of great complexity and beauty, reverently made-only to be destroyed shortly after their completion.  In the documentary, this was done very simply:  the monks simply opened all the windows of their monastery, high in the mountains, and let the winds sweep the mandala away.  All the hard work, all the beauty, gone in minutes.

But this in itself is beautiful.  You see, the monks know that nothing is permanent in this life.  We try, and we try and we try to amass material things and hold on literally for dear life.  We form these attachments to people, as well, and to ideas.  Yet these things are like sand sifting through your fingers.  You get to enjoy them for a finite time, but you must appreciate their beauty while it lasts-before it is gone.  The mandala is both a lesson, and great spiritual practice, for learning to live in the moment and enjoy it for what it is, rather than trying desperately to cling to a past moment or hope for a particular future moment.

This is a lesson that I’m struggling with every day.  It makes me crazy, you know?  The world is all about material junk.  Lately I feel like I’ve been living in a world devoid of spirituality.  People are, on the one hand, amassing wealth and “stuff” like crazy, always having to have the nicest cars, houses, gadgets.  On the other hand, some people are breaking their backs just to have enough “material” to survive.  We are run by the material world, and it sucks.  I’m caught up in it too, torn between the love of things (like my iPhone), and the rat race.  I want to hold on to all my stuff, and I often let that stuff define me.  I constantly define myself to myself, instead of just letting myself be.

In a material world, trying so hard to be an unmaterial girl, I am grateful for the mandala.  I am grateful for the beautiful way in which it was explained to me.  It was a moment of unexpected grace, and I am thankful.

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11 thoughts on “Mandala

  1. We’ve gone through a sort of forced refocus on what is really important for happiness when there was an employment drought for K in the fall – roughly 3 months. It was super tough to go through and figure out what was really important, what we really needed in order to be happy, and how the simple things can end up being the best. He finally has a new job, for which we’re both extremely thankful, but we’re still trying to keep this new mindset of trying to live more simply. It isn’t easy at all, but I think it’s made us do some hard thinking and readjust the way we live, for the better in the long run. The “I want” knee-jerk response to things is definitely hard to tame…

    Congrats on the blog – btw! 🙂 I hope you continue to enjoy writing it!

    • I know where you’re coming from. N is going through a crazy employment time due to starting a new business. It’s definitely hard, but it is a blessing in disguise to be forced to reevaluate your priorities!

  2. And it’s not only material things. We (especially women) are under so much pressure to hang on to our youth and the beauty of youth. About the worst thing a woman can do is to get old and “unattractive”. And so our very bodies become our enemies, which is just tragic.

    I had heard of mandalas, but I didn’t know that part of the ritual was letting it go. That must take a giant leap of faith, but I imagine that it is also very liberating.

    Much to think about here!

    • Ugh, I didn’t even think about it from that perspective! Yes, attachment to our bodies and our youth is just one more form of grasping something you can never hope to keep holding on to. I don’t like being so defined by my body. I’m trying really hard to change that.

      in my experience, letting things go often does feel really fantastic, but it’s so hard to take the leap. i wonder, you know, how hard it is for the monks. maybe it gets easier after years of training.

  3. i get really freaked out by the temporariness of things–well mostly of people and memories, rather than things. it’s nice to think of mortality as beautiful, and i appreciate hearing ways in which it can be done!

    • i do too. i’m trying to learn to allow my thoughts and memories to be only temporary. i’ve spent far too many years going over and over things that happened throughout my life, memories of which make me feel sadness, anger, shame or despair. this holding on to old thoughts really contributes to depression. for a minute it’s like you’re right there with that bad memory and feeling again, and, to your mind, it’s like it really happening again. that’s why i first became interested in mindfulness, i think, was the hope of escaping those old patterns. i constantly have to remind myself that those past moments are merely the past, and all there really is, is the present moment.

  4. I like that we are alike. I like that you are learning about things that are close to my heritage. After reading, balance comes to mind. Thanks for this wonderful reminder!

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