Opening Ceremony and Beginning the Mandala

Buddhists as well as many ancient and Indigenous people are sensitive to the fact that whenever we enter a space, we impact everyone and everything already there. For one week in the middle June 2016, the monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery showed everyone gathered the respect we must give to the beings and energies present, as they are all affected by our presence and our actions. They had arrived to create a sand mandala of compassion for the city of Los Angeles, and were ready to prepare the space for its creation.

The monks lined the platform of St. John’s Cathedral dressed in their bright yellow hats and deep maroon robes draped with orange sashes. They sounded the great long and short horns, drum and cymbals, followed with their deep, powerful chants that set reverberations spinning off the Cathedral’s large stone walls.

The gathered audience was riveted by this awakening ritual.

Geshe Loden, the leader and multi-lingual spokesperson of the visiting monks, stepped forward to explain that The Opening Ceremony prepares the space by calling to all the forces, seen and unseen, to scatter the negative and bring forth the blessings of goodness on four completely different levels.

Their chants, deep and resonate, sounded unlike anything many of those gathered had heard before. Born high in the rugged mountains of Tibet where the air is too thin to exhale fully, one learns to channel the pulsations of energy down through the body instead of out into the air. The mantras, the music, and the ritual movements magnified with mystical implements were disorienting, captivating, and ultimately transportive.

When they were finished, silence returned and the monks stood still once more.

Visitors gathered around the platform and watched quietly. Cell phones and cameras began to appear to capture the practice of intentionality, steadfastness and cooperation playing out in their midst. The weave of straight lines gave rise to curves and squares and interconnection. The blueprint became visible.

A single monk reached out into the very middle of the table and placed a single spot of sand, and then created a ring of vibrant orange. Then he began to fill it in. Other monks began to approach the table laden with the small brass bowls of sand. Picking up a long metal funnel, called a “chakpur“, they dipped it into the bowl, tipping a little sand into the funnel and then quickly – yet with utter deliberateness – carried their chakpur over to the design. Bending down, they too began the tapping that brought the sand to life. Tiny rivers of sand began to flow onto the table top, carefully manifesting the first of the many layers of the granular tapestry that would, in the days ahead, become the completed Mandala of Compassion.

Visitors dropped by all day Wednesday to check on the progress, learn about the Tibetan Buddhist monks and their monastery, ask questions and join the creative process.