by Marjorie George
In the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10084L3Pqsc), the Buddhist monks were huddled around a square table, leaning over it, meticulously marking the spots where the building of the mandala would commence. A mandala (pronounced MAN-da-la), the film’s narrator explained, is a colorful, geometric design, usually a circle that may be within a square, representing unity and inclusion.
Often in the Buddhist tradition, mandalas are made of colored sand. This particular mandala was especially important, for the Dalai Lama was present for its creation.
In the simplest mandala, the starting point is a dot, representing a seed, surrounded by a small circle. From the circle emanate eight short, straight lines, placed equi-distance from each other around the circle. From there the mandala “grows” – one does not create a mandala, one grows a mandala – by adding symbols and shapes in successive rings that encompass the circle.
When the Buddhist monks completed their mandala, it was breath-taking – an exquisitely designed, colorful, intricate piece of art laid out on top of the table.
The Dalai Lama led prayers, blessing the work and the people assembled. One did not need to speak the language to understand that this was a holy and sacred ritual, as silence and stillness pervaded the room.
Then, slowly and deliberately, the Dalai Lama approached the sand design that lay on the table and commenced to run his hand through it from the outside edge to the center circle, creating rivulets of collapsed sand that blurred the design.
“Nooooo,” I shouted at the video. Then, to my horror, the monks around the table picked up whisk brooms and swiftly swept the entire creation into an urn which the entourage carried to a local river and dumped as one scatters the ashes of the deceased over the water.
I almost could not breathe, so taken aback was I. I wanted to grab the sand as it wafted over the water – yes, I thought, as I grab at those things I call mine. When I create or come into possession of something beautiful and meaningful, I frame it and hang it on the wall. My parents’ wedding photo, a child’s kindergarten rendition of “my family” (stick mother, stick father, two stick children, stick dog, blue sky, big yellow sun), my college degrees, a newspaper clipping of myself on the staff of my third-grade newspaper.
Or I pack away special possessions – my deceased mother’s wedding ring, a macaroni necklace (wish I could remember which child made it), Christmas ornaments from my husband’s family that we have not actually put on the Christmas tree in years. My things, my creations, my special stuff.
But the mandala was dumped into the river – “to become a blessing to others,” the narrator explained.
I realized I had just witnessed the best stewardship sermon I had ever heard.
What is it that God asks us to open our hands and let go of? Everything. All that we own, all that we have been given, all the past, all the future, all our talents, all our skills, all our relationships, all our hopes and all our disappointments, all our fears and plans and intentions. This, God says, I call you to release to the wind and the river and the universe.
Does my life need to be as grand and beautiful and organized as the mandala of the monks in order to be a blessing to others? Oh, most definitely it does not. God will take my life, my very self, and cause it to be a blessing if I will unwrap my grubby fingers and let God have his way.
We understand the season of Epiphany, which the Church designates as the time between January 6 and Ash Wednesday, to be a season of showing forth. On the Feast of Epiphany (January 6), we recalled God’s revelation of Christ as Messiah to the Magi, those who were not of the Jewish faith. With Epiphany there is a new understanding, a new manifestation, a new way of seeing “Messiah.” It was a star the Magi had followed – symbol of illumination.
For the next few weeks, we will look at the ways God comes to us as Epiphany, as illumination, opening our eyes and hearts and minds to see beyond what we see. Perhaps we will grow a mandala, painstakingly gathering the pieces of our lives then letting them go on the wind so that they become blessing to others.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about growing a mandala, click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g16B64myG-E