While in Glasgow the monks completed part of the Yamantaka sand mandala. Watching Tibetan monks compose a sand mandala is an amazing spectacle. They are ikons of mindfulness as they fill in the mandala outline with vibrantly coloured paints, using a narrow funnel, similar to that used in icing a cake. It demands a very steady hand and I should imagine a lot of patience. The monks worked quietly and steadily over three days to complete it and within an hour or so of having done so they broke it up. In this day and age when there's a lot of focus on outcomes and results to simply brush away what has taken hours to build seems a bit pointless. The point of course is to show that sometimes the doing is more important than the outcome as is mindfulness of the present moment. But in the end everything is impermanent and we shouldn't cling to outcomes or belongings, or people or whatever. It's a bit like the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna tells Arjuna to do his work well and with devotion because it's his duty and not because of a successful outcome.
Like the Tibetan chanting I'm not sure I really appreciate mandalas. I can admire their intricacies, I can understand that they symbolise the universe at the centre of which resides a specific deity. I can appreciate that for some people they are a path to enlightenment and healing, that they can be the focus for imaginative contemplation. I can appreciate that the prayers and devoted practice of the monks constructing the mandala send out positive energies into the world. But I don't seem to be able to see beyond their surface appearance or appreciate their religious message. I'm sure this is because I've never meditated long enough on one to let it speak to me. I don't see it's hidden meaning. It might also be because it comes from a tradition which I know a little from my visits to Samye Ling Tibetan Monastery but which I can't fully enter into because it seems a bit alien. I'm a woman of my own culture and think I'd find it hard to totally enter into a culture very different from my own though I appreciate others seem to do so. Of course I recognise aspects of Tibetan culture within my own, particularly the viewing and contemplation of images. I like to contemplate images and have found works of art such as Rembrandt's Prodigal Son and Roublev's Trinity speak to me in a way that could be called enlightening. This is also true of images of the Buddha. In fact I find religions that don't have images a bit arid though they do teach us the valuable lesson of not remaining at the surface of the image. They help us realise that any image points to a reality beyond itself and that sometimes we have to wait until it reveals it true meaning to us.
A good number of people visited the sand mandala, attended meditation classes, listened to the chanting and learned something about Buddhism over the three days the monks from Gyoto were in Glasgow. Some people were observing a performance and there was an element of performance about the whole event. For others their devout and respectful demeanor showed it was a religious and prayerful experience. For the monks their mindful recollection showed that both the chanting and the mandala was prayer. So why pray and meditate in such a public way, advertising it as a performance? St Francis of Assisi once told his brothers to preach the gospel at all times and sometimes to use words. It seemed to me that what the monks were doing was preaching the Buddhist dharma without words, communicating the message of Buddhism in a way that was probably subliminal to some people. To see and enjoy it as a performance might bring people into touch with that dharma and perhaps awaken within them a religious sense which has lain dormant and unheeded. This indeed could be of benefit to them and to all sentient beings.ddhist monks chant and meditate to invoke