Dale Neal, email@example.com
September 10, 2014
Urban Dharma in downtown Asheville has mounted a week-long festival of healing and spiritual workshops around the construction of a sand mandala, a sacred art form practiced among Tibetan Buddhists.
ASHEVILLE – Passersby have been pausing by the glass window on Page Avenue this week as an ancient Tibetan tradition has slowly formed before their eyes.
“We’ve seen a lot of regulars,” said Hun Lye, who’s been busy on the other side of the window, meticulously constructing a colorful sand mandala. Lye is working with two Tibetan Buddhist monks, rubbing a metal rod along a brass funnel to lay grains of colored sand onto the carefully marked-out grid.
Lye heads Urban Dharma, which has mounted a week-long festival of healing and spiritual workshops around the construction of the mandala, a sacred art form practiced among Tibetan Buddhists.
Since the Chinese invasion of their county in 1959, exiled monks have carried the art form into other countries, trying to preserve the sand-painting tradition.
In Tibetan Buddhism, mandalas are created as meditation tool and a focal point for prayers and good intentions for the community. In the West, psychologist Carl Jung popularized the mandala as a tool to help understand the subconscious mind.
“Each grain of sand becomes an identical replica of the whole,” Lye explained. “It’s like what William Blake said ‘to see the world in a grain of sand.’”
Mark Hanf brought his class of 7th and 8th graders from Rainbow Community School to see the mandala. “We just did a unit this morning on geometry, drawing with a compass and straight lines, and I wanted to show them this.”
“It’s real cool. It’s just amazing how much detail they’re able to do,” marveled Alex Boots, 13, pressing with his classmates at the glass.
Lye, working alongside Tibetan Buddhist monks, Khenpo Choephel and Lama Sonam, will spend some 50-60 hours before the mandala design is completed on Friday. Choephel laid out the complex grid but this is no “paint-by-the-numbers” operation.
“Khenpo has all the colors up in his head and where they go,” Lye laughed, pointing at his forehead. “We’re following his lead.”
Where Tibetans will typically show up only at the ceremony surrounding a completed mandala, American audiences are mesmerized by the meticulous construction.
“The sound of the rod on the funnel is soothing sound,” Lye said.
A veteran of about four or five mandala creations, Lye said he finds the process absorbing. “We’re used to doing a lot of sitting in our meditation. But this does take a lot of focus.”
Once completed on Friday, the mandala will be moved into the temple space for a Saturday of ceremony and ritual that makes the inert painting into a kind of hologram of healing for the larger community, Lye explained.
The painting will be ceremonially “dissolved” on Sunday with participants taking a small portion of the sand home with them and the rest symbolically deposited in the French Broad River.
The “Circles of Healing” festival continues Thursday at noon with a ceremony of 108 candles that will be lit in honor of the victims of the Sept. 11, along with more recent casualties of wars and unrest.
For more information, click on www.udharmanc.com