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  • Don Martin

Breaking the Mandala


Recently, I had the amazing experience of observing the monks of Drepung Loseling Monastery create a sand mandala. I was mesmerized as I watched the monks carefully and intricately create the complex patterns of the mandala with colored sand. It took shape over several hours, and it was an incredible piece of art.

After the mandala was completed, a ritual of purification and meditation took place. What a sacred moment as I listened to the monks chant and sing as they stood around the art that they had created.

And then (and yes, I knew it was coming…but it still both shocked me and moved me) they destroyed the mandala they had created. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the creation and destruction of the sand mandala symbolize the Buddhist belief that everything in life is transitory, that all is impermanence, and that growth may only occur when destruction (or termination) takes place.

It is a challenging belief and a heavy lesson. No one wants to see something that they love and cherish come to an end…especially a destructive end. But the hard reality is that EVERY THING comes to an end. Every Thing.

We in the spiritual communities like to promote “being in the moment.” But the moment - indeed, every moment - comes to an end. Yes, a new moment comes…but that is where the challenge comes, as well. If we refuse to acknowledge and experience the passing of one moment, we will not experience the coming of the new moment.

I see many people trapped in this pattern, of being unable to let go…of the past, of relationships, of beliefs. I don’t judge them, because I too have struggled with letting go.

The Universe has an interesting way of evolving us to the place where we can let go of the past, and embrace the future and the new. It is called…STRUGGLE, or TRAGEDY, or SUFFERING and PAIN.

Please understand…I don’t think the Universe is like the paternalistic god of the bible, who sits in heaven, looking for someone who has not “let go” and then visiting them with tragedy and suffering.

It is more like a principle of the Universe (like gravity)…if you don’t evolve by letting go, your growth as a human slows and stops. The Universe keeps going…it does not wait on you. Then, you begin to experience misalignment with the Universe, and that becomes painful, because you ARE a part of the Universe…and you belong in alignment with it.

Buddhists also advocate the belief of non-attachment. Non-attachment encourages us to avoid attachments and entanglements with any thing or person that requires that we hold on to it/them in order for it have a meaningful place in our lives. If we find our meaning and purpose in other people, or other things outside of ourselves - we are attached. And attachment leads to not letting go, and not letting go leads to misalignment, and misalignment leads to suffering.

Now…back to Breaking the Mandala.

Can you see the connection? The mandala represents our lives, our efforts, our labor, our relationships. It represents us, and the reality that we have created.

But all of that is impermanent…and being attached to it only leads to suffering. If the monks leave the mandala alone, it will eventually break apart. But they make the conscious and intentional choice to DESTROY the mandala…because they know that destroying the mandala (letting go) serves to create both the present and the future. The new may become because the old is NOT in its place.

UPDATE: The next Global Mandala event is scheduled for Friday, February 13, 2020, at Unity North in Roswell, GA. Put it on your calendar now!

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