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News / Clark County News

Tibetan Buddhist monks complete intricate sand mandala then seep it away during Clark College ceremony

Tibetans’ mandala dispersed, shared in pieces with community

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 6, 2023, 7:50pm
7 Photos
Tibetan Buddhist monk Nawang Shakga completes the weeklong sand mandala ceremony by singing, and sweeping the colorful sand into the center of the ceremonial table at Clark College on Friday afternoon.
Tibetan Buddhist monk Nawang Shakga completes the weeklong sand mandala ceremony by singing, and sweeping the colorful sand into the center of the ceremonial table at Clark College on Friday afternoon. (Photos by James Rexroad for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Like any great artwork, the Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala is crafted with patience, precision and care. What makes the mandala unique, however, is how quickly it’s destroyed after being completed.

Dozens of Clark College staff, students and visitors from the community marveled as monks Nawang Shakga and Lobsang Dawa put the finishing touches on the mandala Friday afternoon in the Clark College library. What began as a small orange circle Monday afternoon had blossomed into a stunningly intricate colorful pattern, a unique piece that demanded just shy of an hour of photography from the crowd.

And then, dramatically quicker than it came together, the monks carefully swept the sand away, signaling the end of the weeklong ceremony.

“You might wonder, do we have to ruin it?” asked Buddhist monk Ajarn Fa Thai, who explained the culminating ritual to the crowd as Dawa began brushing away the pattern. “It is to show the impermanence of our living beings, and of every collision in this world. It is to remind everybody that everything rises and disappears eventually.”

Originally, the monks had planned to gather the sand and proceed to the Grant Street Pier, where it would be dumped into the Columbia River. After apparently encountering a hiccup acquiring the necessary permit from the city, the monks elected to divvy up the sand into plastic bags and distribute it to guests at Friday’s closing ceremony.

“These beautiful sands will be distributed to everyone for a good memory,” Fa Thai said. “(You’ll be reminded) ‘Once in my life, I participated in the sand mandala ceremony.’”

Another ending

This week’s ceremony marked the third time a sand mandala had been constructed on Clark’s campus. In 2020, the monks created a mandala that represented the Tibetan Buddhist value of compassion. This year, it represented the value of wisdom — known as “manjushri,” which is also the name of a Buddhist deity.

The event was organized by Clark’s international programs department in partnership with the Dharma Light Tibetan Buddhist Association, which formed in Vancouver in 2019. Amy Lee, a representative from the association, said she sought to hold the ceremony at the college to help expose its young community of students to tenets of Buddhist culture.

Among the curious onlookers watching the final moments of the ceremony Friday was Mayor Anne McEnerny Ogle, whom the monks invited to speak before the mandala was dissolved.

“When I visited Tibet 30 or so years ago, we were fortunate to learn about your religion and meet with the Dalai Lama to learn how this is all in your hearts,” the mayor said. “I can only imagine how careful and steady your hands were as you put this together. We all know how fragile peace is — and fleeting in many parts of the world. We appreciate you bringing this us as a reminder of that peace.”

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