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A Mandala enCHANTS a Community

by Gail Sachson 29 Apr 2014 2:41 PM

Guest blogger Gail Sachson meditates with the monks – and makes art – at the Crow Collection.



Students from the Notre Dame School of Dallas make a mandala at the Crow Museum. Photo: Gail Sachson

The chanting which stirred my soul last week at the Crow Museum of Asian Art was not what one would expect. It was not the sound of psalm reading or hymnal singing, but the sound of imagined crickets chanting in unison, as a team of  Tibetan Buddhist Monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery scraped along  small protrusions on small metal funnels ( chak-pur) filled with colored sand. The vibrations activated the sand , made from crushed marble or dyed white stones ,  to flow like liquid out of the funnel onto a mandala , a spiritually designed space with symbols and designs  radiating outward from a circular center , less than an inch away from the tip of the instrument. The repetitive scraping sounds created a meditative ambiance for the audience and the monks, as well.

On the afternoon I visited, during the Monks’  annual week-long artist residency , an audience of about twelve gathered silently to watch  the Monks construct a Tantric Buddhist Mandala sand painting.  Crowds had previously gathered at the Crow to attend the opening ceremony and also to witness the closing 2,500 year old ritual of dismantling the thousands of grains of sand and then  dispersing them to the waters of White Rock Lake, thereby releasing the healing  powers of the mandala to the world, while stressing the impermanence of beauty and all that exists.

Having watched the Monks at work, I brazenly made my contribution to the Community Sand Mandala, where I happened upon several students from the Notre Dame School of Dallas, just a few blocks from the Crow. We all  tried our hands at following the lines outlined on the smaller sized mandala, with symbols and designs drawn specifically to refer to the Crow Museum. The chanting sound I produced was not first. It was more like erratic bird chirping than rhythmic crickets. Yet, as I relaxed , I could hear the imagined crickets. Body tension eased, and I had better control to follow the outline. The students proclaimed it “fun” and left with smiles.

You should prepare now for mandala making next Spring when the Monks will return. Join the lectures and classes scheduled every day as part of the Crow Museum’s Spiritual Art Wellness Program, offering lectures and workshops in yoga, meditation and tai chi. The meditative state seems to take much practice and energy and stamina.The Monks made it look easy.