Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Create Mandala, a Metaphor for the Path to Enlightenment, in the Hougton Chapel

October 24, 2012

In a unique opportunity to share the cultural treasures of Tibet, six Tibetan Buddhist nuns, among the first women trained in the sacred art practice, are spending the week creating a sand Mandala in Wellesley College’s Houghton Chapel. For the first time, viewers are be able to participate in the experience virtually via live stream during the work day.

A portion of the live stream video was recorded and can be seen on Youtube.

Sand mandalas are ancient, two-dimensional paintings created with vibrantly colored sand, representing the perfected environment of an enlightened being - in this case, Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning: circle, cosmogram or “world in harmony.” The mandala is a symbol of enlightened states that align with the physical universe, bringing about healing and peace. At a deeper level, a mandala is a visual metaphor for the path to enlightenment: its viewers enter a world designed to evoke attitudes and understandings of their own deepest nature.

Photos of and stories about the mandala are just about the only artifacts that will remain at the end of the week -- after completion, the mandala will be destroyed and it’s sand will be taken to Wellesley’s Lake Waban. According to Ji Hyang Padma '91, Buddhist advisor at Wellesley College, “The mandala is always dismantled at the end, and the sand returned to the waters, in recognition of the transitory nature of life.”

The nuns visit Wellesley from the Keydong Thuk-Che-Cho-Ling Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal. They are among the first Tibetan Buddhist women to learn the sacred art practice of the mandala, which was traditionally reserved only for monks. They create the mandala using five colors of sand, each representing different qualities of Buddhism. The sand comes directly from Kathmandu and is colored with vegetable dyes and precious minerals.

“To view the Mandala is considered a blessing. It conveys an experience of wholeness, bringing about healing and peace,” Padma said. “The entirety of the mandala represents sacred world as microcosm (within us) and macrocosm (around us) -- and our awareness that there is no separation: the spheres of inner life and outer life are originally one sacred world.”

This is the Keydong nuns’ second visit to the United States and to Wellesley College. They first visited Wellesley in 2005 on Padma’s invitation to promote an interest in Buddhist spirituality. That visit drew over 4,000 visitors from the college and the wider community to campus.

“Our world is going through such great change,” Padma said. “This gift of awakened compassion that the nuns bring can revitalize our own vision of the sacred world in the here and now.”

The event is part of Wellesley’s Art and Soul Program through the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. It is sponsored by Department of Religious and Spiritual Life, the Department of Intercultural Education, the Committee for Lectures and Cultural Events, the Department of Religion, the Department of Political Science, the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, the Peace and Justice Studies Program, and the Slater Center at Wellesley College.

The nuns will open each day by delivering a blessing, a chant called a Puja. This ritual will also be celebrated with an evening event tomorrow, Thursday, October 25 at 8:15 PM. The event began with an opening ceremony on Monday, led by the Keydong nuns. They were introduced to the community by Dean Victor Kazanjian and Wellesley Religion Professor T. James Kodera. A panel discussion, Circles of Compassion: Cultural and Social Interpretations of the Mandala, with Professor Kodera and Professor Gordon Fellman, Sociology Department, Brandeis University, took place last night. 

Remaining Scheduled Events include:

Monday, October 22nd, 12:30 PM - Sunday, October 28, 12:30 PM, Creation of the mandala: The mandala will be open and on display to the public from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily. The event will also be live streamed during work hours, Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM.

Thursday, October 25, 8:15 PM: Puja of Avalokitesvara: We are honored to announce this opportunity to share with the community the cultural treasure of Tibetan chant and its diamond-point teachings on peace and wholeness. The nuns will perform a puja (a blessing), dedicated to the Bodhissatva ideal represented by Avalokitesvara, the Bodhissatva of Compassion. This practice is a traditional way to purify the mind, including visualizations, verse recitations, distinctive and beautiful overtone chanting, complemented by heartfelt prayer. In Nepal and Tibet as in America, the times are politically uncertain; these nuns have, through meditation, used uncertainty to deepen their compassion. The inner resources they bring are extraordinary. Using traditional chanting and images, a realignment with the sacred is possible, bringing about healing and peace.

Sunday, October 28, 12:30 PM, Dismantling of the Sacred Mandala: A closing ceremony and dismantling of the sacred mandala will begin at Houghton Chapel and proceed to the shore of Lake Waban where the sand will be returned to the earth.

Live stream, Monday, October 22 through Friday, October 26 from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM: www.wellesley.edu/PublicAffairs/Live (please note, web address is case sensitive).