Tibetan Sand Mandala
The Heritage Museum of Asian Art, in collaboration with TIBETcenter, was honored to host the venerable Lama Losang Samten for a Tibetan Sand Mandala ritual November 9-12. Visitors were invited to watch the creation and eventual destruction of the Sand Mandala. Lama Samten created the Mandala of Infinite Compassion during his four-day residency at the museum. The Lama also hosted two evening lectures discussing the foundations of Buddhism, meditation, and his artistic practice.
Opening Ceremony and Creation
A Sand Mandala is a traditional Buddhist art form that involves the creation of intricate, geometric designs using colored sand. Mandalas are considered representations of the universe and are used in meditation and spiritual practice to aid in inner transformation and enlightenment. During the opening ceremony, Lama Losang Samten mapped out the mandala, discussed his practice with visitors, and prepared his materials, including the sand and tools, known as Chak Pur.
A sand mandala's meaning goes beyond its aesthetic beauty:
1. Spiritual Significance: The Sand Mandala of Infinite Compassion is considered a representation of the palace, or home, of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Chenrezig, also known as Avalokiteshvara. He resides in the center of the lotus. The mandala serves as a visual aid for meditation and a focal point for spiritual practices.
2. Impermanence: One of the core teachings of Buddhism is impermanence, and sand mandalas embody this concept. They are meticulously constructed by monks over several days, only to be intentionally destroyed upon completion. This process underscores the transient nature of all things.
3. Healing and Transformation: Creating a sand mandala is a form of meditation for the monks involved, promoting inner peace and mindfulness. It's believed that the energy and intentions put into the mandala can have a healing and transformative effect on both the creators and observers.
4. Cultural Expression: Sand mandalas are also a cultural expression of Tibetan Buddhism. They are used in various rituals and ceremonies, and their creation and dissolution are often accompanied by chants, prayers, and rituals.
About Lama Losang Samten
The Venerable Lama Losang Samten is a renowned Tibetan scholar and former Buddhist monk who was born in Tibet in 1953. Following political unrest, Lama Samten's family fled Tibet and sought refuge in Nepal in 1959. Shortly after, his family relocated to Dharamsala, India in 1965 along with other Tibetan refugees. His education includes studies at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and the Namgyal Monastery where he received the equivalent of a Ph.D. in Buddhist Philosophy. Lama Samten has held many prestigious positions, such as the Personal Attendant to His Holiness XIV Dalai Lama, and awarded many fellowship and honorary degrees. Lama Samten is the spiritual director of the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia and travels extensively sharing his knowledge of Buddhist philosophy and meditation, as well as showcasing his skills in Tibetan ritual art.
Since 1988, he has been demonstrating the meditative art of sand painting in the US. He has since been invited to many prestigious American museums including the American Museum of Natural History, where he constructed the first Tibetan mandala in the West, The Smithsonian Institution, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lama Samten's rich knowledge of Buddhism and Tibetan ritual arts has earned him reputable positions, such as a Tibetan Language professor at The University of Pennsylvania.
Lama Losang Samten and the museum visitors took part in a traditional sand mandala dissolution ceremony following its completion.
Saturday's lecture focused on topics covered in Lama Samten's 2010 book, Ancient Teachings in Modern Times Buddhism in the 21st Century. Buddhism, one of the world's major religions, is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. Lama Samten dove into the teachings of the Buddha, offering an accessible journey towards greater joy and peace. The ancient teachings of Buddhism are encapsulated in what is referred to as the "Four Noble Truths," focusing on the concept of suffering and how to overcome it, and the "Eightfold Path," commandment-like steps to find enlightenment. These teachings emphasize the importance of personal responsibility, ethics, meditation, and self-awareness as the means to overcome suffering and achieve enlightenment.
On Sunday 14th November, closing out his four-day residency at the museum, Venerable Lama Losang Samten hosted a lecture covering Buddhist thought and meditation. Lama Samten detailed into the profound teachings of Buddhist philosophy and the art of training the mind to enhance happiness and focus. Visitors discovered how meditation can restore inner peace, stabilize the mind, and help manage the stresses of daily life. The lecture aimed to introduce listeners to Buddha's wisdom on concentration, meditation, and the concept of Enlightenment, offering basic yet profoundly beneficial techniques for cultivating a more joyful and serene mind
TIBETcenter is a 501c3 not-for-profit Tibetan art and culture organization located in Evanston. The center endeavors to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of Tibet. The organization was founded in January 1999 with the blessing of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama.
The HMAA thanks the Venerable Lama Losang Samten and the Chicago TIBETcenter for hosting a wonderful event. The HMAA also appreciates the support received from individual donors and organizations: DCASE, AFusion, ADG, and Fanluan Delivery.
Photographs courtesy of Jasmine Carter and Yufei Xiong.