This past Saturday I visited From the Heart Yoga Center, where the Venerable Thupten Tsondu Tashi of the Gyudmed Monastery was performing a peace blessing. I arrived a few minutes after the start of the ceremony, and sat quietly in a corner until the ceremony ended, at which time Rick introduced me to Tashi, who floored me with this:
“I know you.”
The first thing I thought of was that he remembered me from when I was in India back in February 2001, during the Losar celebration at the Zongkar Choede monastery. Gyudmed is just up the road from Z.C., and many of the Gyudmed monks had come to Z.C. for the Cham dance portion of the ceremony. I don’t recall if we were introduced back then, but it is entirely possible.
It wasn’t until a day later that I remembered that he had been in town a couple of years ago on another tour, and that he and I had attended a gathering at the home of Anisa. He and Anisa had met several years earlier when she was a driver for the North American leg of a tour by a group of Tibetan monks from the Gyudmed and Dzongkar Choede monasteries. When I mentioned that I knew Anisa, Tashi became quite excited and asked that I tell her about the other events which he would be holding throughout the week.
This evening I attended the dismantling of a sand mandala which Tachi had built over the past three days. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, he said. Eight in the morning until five in the afternoon. Twenty-seven hours, by himself, building a two-foot-square mandala by himself, a grain of sand at a time. He finished at 5pm today, and the dismantling began at 5:30.
This particular mandala was the Mandala of Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, whose symbols are the sword and scroll.
The ceremony began with Tashi explaining the different parts of the mandala; why there are certain colors, why the mandalas have specific number of specific design elements, and why the thing is built out of sand in the first place.
After the questions ended Tashi set out his tools and began a prayer chant which lasted around fifteen minutes.
When the prayer finished Tashi began to very carefully dismantle the mandala by cutting precise lines into the sand with a dorje.
Once the lines were finished and the mandala dismantled, he began to sweep the sand into the center of the mandala, again following a specific pattern, counter-clockwise around the mandala, a section at a time.
When the brushing was complete Tashi offered each of us some of the sand from the mandala to take with us as a blessing. He said that traditionally a little of the sand is sprinkled on the top of someone’s head (around the crown chakra) in order that, when that person dies the sand, which has been blessed by being part of a mandala, helps the spirit to depart to the next world so there is less of a chance of being stuck in this one. It also acts as protection against evil spirits.
Next we moved down to the west bank of the Grand River where Tashi perforned the final steps of the ceremony: casting the sand into a river. This serves multiple purposes: the sand can never again be used in a mandala; the mandala of which it was a part can never be re-created; and the sand itself is an offering to the spirits of the river, and are said to help still angry waters and make for safe journeys. Each of the different colors of the sand represent different gems and precious metals — yellow for gold, white for silver, red for rubies, etc — so this is truly a precious gift.
After a final few minutes of prayer Tashi cast the sand into the river — carefully making sure none of it blew back onto the bank — and washed out the cup from which he had cast the sand. Then he performed a final, short prayer, and the ceremony was over.
The Venerable T.T. Tashi is currently touring the United States in to raise funds for the Buddhist Mind Training School in Mongolia, where children can receive a good education in a safe environment. For information on tour dates and locations, contact Heidi Ragchaa at firstname.lastname@example.org.