A soothing ohm resonated throughout the Sacred Space of Numen Lumen. With several chimes of a bell, Geshe Sangpo and Gen Norbu, monks from the Kadampa Center for Tibetan Monks in Raleigh, blessed the space they worked on to create a mandala, a geometric figure featuring Buddhist symbols.
Carefully placing colorful sand on the table, Sangpo and Norbu worked for the Sept. 21-23 to create a mandala that represented peace and healing.
“A mandala is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional construct that is a mental pathway from enlightenment,” said Elise Strevel, outreach coordinator for the Kadampa Center. “Enlightenment means compassion and wisdom and removal of all ignorance.”
The design comes from Green Tara, a Buddhist deity who is known as the “great liberator” because she removes individuals from sickness and ignorance, according to Strevel. Those who walked through the room could immediately feel this energy.
According to Strevel, this energy has existed at all times. Creating the mandala highlights the blessing and allows the viewer to question this meaning.
Students and community members were able to watch the monks carefully transform the colorful sand into a work of art, bringing the energy of peace to whoever enters the room.
“Bringing it here to Elon is an incredible blessing,” Strevel said. “An incredible opportunity to experience that focused energy. Of course that energy is always here, but like a prism that focuses in one place — it makes it so much more achievable.”
On Sept. 22, visitors were able to watch the creation of the mandala and see the intricate design expand throughout the day.
To learn the meaning of various symbols and how to create them, the monks have memorized Buddhist scriptures, most learned through oral traditions.
Sangpo has been focusing on the craft for so long, he no longer needs to practice.
“He makes it sound so simple,” said Sandy Carlson, board member for the Kadampa Center. “It’s a lot of years — a lot of study and practice and he’s very good. They actually sent other monks in the monastery back in India to work with him.”
This is the third consecutive year the monks have created the mandala at Elon. Though Strevel has seen popularity from the beginning, she said this year she saw more community members and children.
When the monks were not working, students were able to ask the monks a variety of questions ranging from the symbols and creation of the mandala to more personal questions such as, how long the monks have been creating mandalas.
“I’m very happy to talk with the students,” Sangpo said. “There are so many questions. Everyone has different questions.”
According to Carlson, classes from many disciplines, ranging from art to journalism, came to take a peek at the creation, noticing several students that have researched the mandala beforehand and came up with thoughtful, engaging questions.
The mandala was completed early morning Sept. 22, allowing viewers to see the completed design that day.
Students of all religions came to see the creation, admiring how much detailed work goes into constructing each colorful symbol and the significance of the time taken.
“I’m really grateful we got to have it here,” said Emily DeMaioNewton, intern at the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. “My whole family is Buddhist, so growing up I went to a few in different places. But to have it at Elon, right where I live — that’s amazing because we’ve driven hours to see other ones.”
The same soothing ohm rang through the Sacred Space again, At 3 p.m. Sept. 23 — this time signaling the closing, or destruction, ceremony.
Though they spent hours carefully constructing it, the monks took apart the mandala, giving bags of the sand to those who came to keep the blessing. This is done to represent impermanence — the idea that nothing will always be the same and that individuals should focus on peace and kindness instead.
“In the end, we can have a good heart, therefore, teaching that everything is impermanent,” Sangpo said. “We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Therefore, we need to start now. Have a good heart and if you really want happiness, you need to help other people, and that is what this teaches us.”
The monks slowly disrupt the colorful design by running their fingers through it, and students were invited to join the process. Using foam paint brushes, they piled up the sand combining the blessing and symbols into one
The remaining sand was brought to a body of water to figuratively allow the blessing to be carried all over the world, so peace and healing touches all.
“I love the Truitt Center and how interfaith it is, because Tibetan Buddhism doesn’t have a lot of holidays — so it’s hard to put on a big holiday for that,” DeMaioNewton said. “So I think it’s really great to have a Buddhist ceremony in a really engaging and immersive way.”