Tibetan sand scultpures awe campus

In an effort to expose students at the College to more religious and cultural diversity, the Religion, Culture and Identity Learning Community brought the Tibetan Sand Mandala Ceremony to campus last week. From Saturday, Feb. 9, to Friday, Feb. 15, Tibetan monks from the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, N.Y., performed the Tibetan Sand Mandala Ceremony in the New Library lobby.

Originally scheduled to take place in Holman Hall, the coordinators decided to move the ceremony to a more central location to be better appreciated by the campus community.

“The library is more central and ties into the goal for the building of the New Library as a center for cultural and intellectual discussion, not just a place to get books,” Celia Chazelle, professor of history and Web master and coordinator of the Religion, Culture and Identity Learning Community, said.

The ritual began with an opening ceremony from 9-9:30 p.m. on Feb. 9 that involved prayer and offerings. Later in the day, Xinru Liu, professor of history, and Jess Row, professor of English, gave a public lecture titled “Tibet, Buddhism Past and Present and the Cultural Meaning of the Sand Mandala,” that outlined the historical context of the mandala.

All week long Venerables Lobsang Gyaltsen and Tenzin Thutop painstakingly drew out and then applied grains of colored sand to a flat platform in patterns of geometric shapes and historic Buddhist spiritual symbols in honor of a Buddhist deity.

Jana Olsavska, junior nursing major, said, “When I was watching the monks make the mandala, it made me feel really relaxed and I had to pause and watch them do it for awhile because it brought a sense of peace and harmony into my soul.”

At around 3 p.m. on Friday, a Q-and-A session hosted by Pierre Le Morvan, professor of philosophy and religion, allowed students to ask questions of the monks. Students packed the lobby, the stairs and the second floor overlooking the lobby to get a chance to ask the monks about their backgrounds, educations and the importance and religious significance of the mandala.

“I was amazed at the mandala’s intricacy, and found the entire event to be fascinating,” Patrick Bieger, sophomore international studies major, said.

After entertaining questions from the audience, the monks ritually dismantled the mandala while reciting prayers and giving spiritual offerings. The blessed sand was placed in a vase wrapped in silk. Then the ceremony culminated in a large procession following the monks to Lake Sylva so the sand could be scattered in the water.

“The sand is cast into a body of water to emphasize and highlight the impermanence of all things and the importance of non-attachment. When the sand enters the water, the kindness and compassion of the deity are disseminated into the world to benefit all beings,” the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies explains on its Web site. The week-long mandala ceremony was in conjunction with a one-day symposium called “The Creation and Contestation of Sacred Space,” in which six scholars talked about the various perspectives and roles of sacred spaces in different religious traditions.

“It’s really exciting to have a chance to see such a remarkable cultural and religious ceremony on the College’s campus,” Brianna Glynn, sophomore biology major, said.

It is also part of a bigger celebration of culture that has been going on throughout the year under the same title as the learning community, “Religion, Culture and Identity.” Although there is a campus-wide theme every year for events, Chazelle explained that this year the events are more numerous and exciting for students to attend due to many sponsors, including the School of Culture and Society and the School of Arts and Communication, the Religious Studies Committee and the Committee on Cultural and Intellectual Community.

“Our main idea behind the whole program is to attract interest and promote understanding and acceptance of religious diversity,” Chazelle said, “while our long term goal is to hopefully generate enough interest to eventually offer a religious studies major at the College.”