AMHERST, Mass. — In conjunction with the exhibition Picturing Enlightenment: Thangka in the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, monks from the Tibetan Buddhist Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, N.Y., will create a sand mandala in the college’s Frost Library.
A ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 13, at approximately 10 a.m. will mark the start of the four-day project, which is being co-sponsored by the college’s departments of Religion and Asian Languages and Civilizations.
The team of monks will painstakingly arrange grains of colored sand into the form of a mandala (pronounced mahn-DAH-la). The design, whose name means “house” or “palace,” represents the divine home of a Buddha (one who has attained perfect enlightenment) or a bodhisattva (a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others). Individual elements of the design represent aspects of the deity and features of Buddhist philosophy, and the devout who meditate on the design are said to enter the home or the mind of the Buddha. The mandala that will be constructed in Frost Library will be of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
As carefully as the mandala is constructed, it is just as devoutly destroyed. On Sunday, Oct. 16, at approximately 2 p.m., there will be a dissolution ceremony at which the deity will be released by the dismantling of the mandala. This underlines the transient quality of life and the Buddhist emphasis on nonattachment. When the mandala is destroyed, the deity’s blessings are said to spread out to all.
The Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies is the North American Seat of the Personal Monastery of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Namgyal Ithaca was established in 1992 as a branch of the main Namgyal Monastery located in Dharamsala, India. Monks from the Indian monastery were the first to be authorized by the Dalai Lama to construct a mandala in the United States, in 1988 at the Museum of Natural History in New York.
The Frost Library event is one in a series connected with the ongoing exhibit Picturing Enlightenment: Thangka in the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, which marks the completion of an extensive project to conserve the Mead’s collection of scroll paintings of Buddhist figures. The Mead exhibit and related events run through June 2012.