I’ve lived all my life in the South, which also means I live in “the Bible Belt.” If you are unfamiliar with this term, in a nutshell it means not only is someone going to ask you “who’s your Mama?,” they are also probably going to ask you which church you attend on Sundays. From the bayous of Louisiana to the hollers of Kentucky, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a First Baptist, First Methodist, First Presbyterian or First AME church. Don’t even get me started on Second Baptist and Third Baptist churches. Just like how you take your tea, which mayonnaise you use, and which SEC football team you yell for, your religion is everybody’s business in the South.
With all of this in mind, when we found out that the Tibetan Monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery were revisiting the Jepson Center Center for the Arts, we knew it was time to take a drive down to Savannah. The lamas were at the Jepson for a week-long residency to create a sand mandala.
Mandala, a Sanskrit word meaning “sacred cosmogram,” is a sand painting. Beginning with an opening ceremony in which the lamas consecrate the site through chanting and music, the monks began creating the mandala outline from memory. Each manifestation of the Buddha has its own design. The monks began by drawing the axes in the four cardinal directions using chalked string that has been blessed. Using simple geometric tools and rulers, the lamas drew parallel lines, overlapping circles and concentric squares to create the mandala.
In the following days, the monks painstakingly created the mandala grain-by-grain using crushed marble. Dressed in dark red and golden saffron, the lamas poured sand from traditional metal funnels called chak-purs. Each monk holds a chak-pur in one hand, while running a metal rod on its grated surface; the vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid. The lamas created the Akshobya Mandala, also known as the “Unshakable Victor,” for conflict resolution and peace.
On Sunday, the mandala was destroyed by sweeping the sands —a metaphor for the impermanence of life. The sands were swept up and placed in an urn; half was distributed to the audience at the closing ceremony. The remainder was carried by the monks to the Savannah River. The waters then carried the healing blessing to the ocean, and from there it spreads throughout the world for planetary healing.