This week I visited the Robert Hull Fleming Museum on the campus of UVM (University of Vermont). I went because I read that, in connection with an exhibit of contemporary Tibetan art, they were having two Tibetan Buddhist monks create a sand mandala in the Museum's Marble Court. The monks will work from April 9-16. I hope to make it back one or two more times to watch the progress.
Mandalas are very complex and symbolic structures. The one being created at the Fleming is that of Chenrezig which translates as the "Buddha of Great Compassion."
Using funnels of colored sand, the monks, working in silence, distribute the sand into the delicate pattern, by rubbing a second metal funnel across the funnel holding the sand. To me, the sound the two funnels make when rasped together almost sounds like deep meditative breathing. The gallery guide at the Fleming referred to it as "the sound of emptiness." I kept thinking, "But in emptiness there is often fullness."
Detail from the sand mandala
The lotus in the center of the mandala is an important symbol representing Buddha but also significant because the lotus flower grows in muddy water but emerges beautiful and pure.
When the monks are finished with the mandala there will be a dissolution ceremony, as part of the tradition of the mandala is that it is only temporary. The gallery guide at the Fleming states that when the mandala is dismantled "the sand is cast into a boy of water to represent the impermanence of all things and the importance of non attachment." I don't know if I can make it back for this ceremony but it would be very interesting to see. Hard to believe that the monks will dismantle something so beautiful that they will have worked seven days to create. It's all part of the process.
I enjoyed looking at the other exhibits at the Fleming, too, and hope to return many times. What can I say--once a museum person, always a museum person!
So that's where the Dean went wandering this week.