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Lehigh community flocks to sand mandala creation

The intricate and beautiful design is taking shape over the course of the week.

Long before he knew that a sand mandala would be created at Lehigh in advance of a visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama next July, Justin Howe was attracted to the exquisite Buddhist tradition.

“I’d read about them for years, and I was always interested in the theoretical concept of impermanence and change,” says Howe, a junior majoring in theatre and astronomy. “When I read about it coming here to Lehigh, I decided I was going to be here as much as possible.”

Three days into the five-day construction and immediate dismantling of the sand mandala, Howe finds himself spending hour after hour in the presence of the four monks from the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies, who are laboring on the intricately patterned design.

“I must have spent a total of at least six hours here so far,” he says. “It’s very peaceful, and then very motivating in the way that they concentrate on these really tiny details, in this very deliberative and tedious process. It’s far more tedious than anything I have to do right now.”

For a live webcam of the monks building the sand mandala, please visit Watch the Mandala creation live.

While Howe might spend more time contemplating the myriad virtues of the sacred process, he is typical of a steady stream of students, staff, faculty and visitors who look on in awe as the monks artfully arrange millions of grains of colored sand on a raised blue platform in the rotunda of Linderman Library.

An amazing experience

Accompanied only by the metal clinking of their funnels and their own recording of Tibetan chants, they proceed in silence, with a focused discipline that intrigues observers.

“It’s amazing,” says Sean Cleary, a first-year computer science and business major from Hillsdale, N.J. “The fact that they are able to do this for hours without making a mistake is really amazing.”

James Hughes, a first-year student who serves on the photo staff of The Brown and White, found the monks’ patience “astounding.”

“The intricacy of the design is really incredible,” he says. “I can’t even imagine being able to do something like this, which is what makes this whole experience really amazing.”

According to Buddhist tradition, the “mandala of colored powders” is a mystical representation of the universe. Each morning during its creation, the monks spend a half hour in prayer and contemplation, before proceeding to the work of directing the grains of sand onto a pattern that was etched onto a flat platform.

As the design expands outward and becomes more detailed, the monks frequently employ a wooden scraper to refine the lines. Upon the completion on Friday morning, they will conclude their creation of the mandala with a dismantling ceremony before releasing the sands into a flowing body of water.

Members of the Lehigh community and general public are welcome to observe the process from the hours of 9 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 5 p.m. on Thursday.

A public viewing will also be held from 9 to 10 a.m. on Friday, to be immediately followed by a dismantling ceremony that will take place between 10 and 10:30 a.m.

Stacy Burger, who has represented the Provost’s office on site throughout the process, has witnessed hundreds of observers over the past three days.

“It ebbs and flows, and there are definitely more students coming in as the day goes on and they have more free time to spend here,” she says. “They are instantly intrigued by it. They tend to ask a lot of questions and really seem interested in learning more about it, so that’s a great aspect of this event.”

Joshua Cutler, co-director of the Tibetan Learning Center in Washington, N.J., says that he hopes observers also find a sense of peace.

“The people who stand and watch and take in this whole experience can have a real sense of peacefulness,” he says. “They’re asked to wind down their busy-ness in order to take it all in.”

--Linda Harbrecht

Photo by Douglas Benedict

Posted on Wednesday, October 24, 2007

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