This past Friday, we were traveling through Helena, and as luck would have it, the Tibetan Children’s Education Foundation (TCEF) was sponsoring the creation of a sand mandala in the rotunda of the Montana Capitol Building. TCEF dedicates itself to the preservation of the Tibetan culture through education and assistance, raising awareness of the culture, and by empowering Tibetans to carry out these goals. TCEF is wonderfully staffed by two friends of mine, Karma Tensum and Valerie Hellermann, and the mid-day was marked by being in their graceful presence. When we arrived in the rotunda of the Capitol, a local elementary class was present and observing the mandala creation. They ask many questions of Karma and the monk creating the mandala.
The mandala was being made by the Venerable Ngawang Chojor. Ngawang Chojor studied at the Namgyal Monastery in Lhasa where he mastered the meanings behind and making of sand mandalas. He has also perfected the ritual arts of butter sculpture and lama dance costumes. In my short time with him, he was warm, concentrated, and patient, which is saying something when you are surrounded by a class of elementary students who are allowed to ask questions. His precision and diligence in his task was something to be emulated in any endeavor.Sand mandalas are circular forms containing many precise, often symmetrical geometric patterns and images. Mandalas can be made of sand, stones, or rice, drawn, or present in the mind of the meditator. Mandalas aid the meditator as they represent a Pure Buddha Realm or the entire universe, and if properly envisioned, it acts as foundation for enlightenment. There are many different mandalas, each of them possesses their own unique aspects with common elements present in every one, such as the outer ring normally representing wisdom. The mandalas are not meant to be impermanent as they are swept away after they are completed, a lesson in impermanence to both the creators and observers of the mandala.