Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. —Dalai Lama
Key West, Florida. On Key West’s Duval Street, I meandered past the trendy boutiques, seedy bars, and an array of restaurants, including Jimmy Buffet’s original Margaritaville. This was American kitsch at its best.
When I noticed something different — a banner outside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church announcing the “Drepung Gomang Tibetan Monks Sacred Art Tour” — I turned away from the steady stream of winter visitors and stepped inside the sanctuary.
A cosmos away from the outside world, Buddhist monks labored over the creation of a brilliantly colored sand mandala. Seated on a platform on the sanctuary floor directly below the wooden crosses and cerulean blue stained glass windows, the monks from southern India, applied millions of particles of dyed sand to a peace mandala.
The sand, colored with vegetable dyes or opaque tempera, was poured onto the mandala platform with a narrow metal funnel called a chakpur which was scraped by another metal rod to cause sufficient vibration for the grains of sand to trickle out of its end. The two pieces of the chakpur symbolize wisdom and compassion. In the sand mandala ceremony, I found threads of wisdom for life and more compassion for others and myself.
The monks dedicated a week to the construction of the compassion mandala. As I watched the monks at work, a church volunteer explained that the Mandala sand would be swept up and deposited into the sea in a few days.
According to the monks, students of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the sand mandala is a vehicle to generate compassion. The mandala’s construction and deconstruction is intended to help people realize the impermanence of reality.
As the sands journey around the world through rivers and oceans, the process is also meant to promote the lofty goal of a cosmic healing of the environment.
On Sunday afternoon the monks, along with spectators, traveled to the Key West harbor where the sand was ceremonially poured into the sea to spread the healing energies of the mandala throughout the world. Some of that healing energy must have reached me that day.
I mentally swept up the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years that I spent with loved ones who are no longer present in my life and imagined pouring the memories into the ocean.
Just as the monks intended, the sand mandala experience helped me move a bit closer to embracing the temporary nature of our lives.
The current carried away the sands of the mandala. Some of the sand may be washed back ashore at Key West while other particles will reach distant shores. Maybe the monks have it right and the sand will spread healing energy throughout the world.
Love doesn’t make the world go ’round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile. —Franklin P. Jones