Mandala creation/destruction caps 'The End of Things' symposium

The fall semester’s Difficult Dialogues symposium was structured on the theme “The End of Things,” exploring the nature of conclusions, both dramatic and whispered, in art, in the environment, in language and in government.

Last week’s creation, and later dismantling, of a traditional Buddhist sand mandala in the lobby of Dana Commons served as a reminder that endings are often accompanied by some rather interesting beginnings.

View a Flickr slideshow of the Mandala's creation

The Venerable Lama Tenzin Yignyen spent five days fashioning The Inner Mandala of the Buddha of Compassion, an elaborate design composed entirely of multi-colored sand. The process attracted onlookers from the Clark community and beyond, who gathered to watch Yignyen work the sand into the intricate patterns that are elements of Buddhist initiation ceremonies and ritual practices.

“The creation of the sand mandala was a powerful culmination for our Difficult Dialogues symposium on ‘The End of Things,’” said Sarah Buie, outgoing director of the Higgins School of Humanities. “Throughout the semester, we’ve explored difficult challenges we face in social structures and climate change, and the popular culture around apocalyptic visions. We also considered our attitudes toward death and dying. I see the mandala helping us approach these ‘endings’ with fresh awareness.”

As with all mandalas, the version created by Yignyen was dismantled in a closing ceremony. The disassembling of this painstakingly crafted work of art reflects the “impermanence and transitory nature of all aspects of life,” writes Barry Bryant, author of “The Wheel of Time.”

The sand from the Clark mandala was deposited in University Pond.

“Made with great skill and attention, moment to moment, the mandala maps and celebrates our layered and interdependent existence,” Buie said. “Everything, whether dark and light, good and bad, comes whole through it. And then it is destroyed, transformed, with equal care and equanimity. The sand returns to the water, nourishes something new. Another mandala begins again, somewhere else.

“So in mandala-making we can see a balance between attention, compassion, and reality. We see a willingness to look at where and what we are without fear, and to act from that. That’s what Lama Tenzin shared with us in his art, dharma teachings and presence.”