Monks and Mandalas… The monk must have been watching, as we made our way up the track to the remote Tibetan monastery at Xinkangmao.
Because as we approached the main compound the door opened and he beckoned me inside.
It was one of those moments that makes travel in distant locations so special. And I did not hesitate, although a quick look back at my friend Jun told me that he was more than a little nervous at the surprise invitation!
Jun is Han Chinese, as are 92% of China’s 1.35 billion people. He is also acutely aware that the Han are not particularly popular with followers of the exiled Dalai Lama.
Later telling me that he worried that I might be kidnapped…
Inside the compound were several more monks who welcomed me warmly. And then escorted me in to the main building, much to Jun’s concern who snapped the picture below for posterity.
Monks and Mandalas – Work in Progress
The entrance had a heavy quilted curtain to keep the bitter winter cold out. It was a struggle to get through – much to the monk’s amusement! Once inside, the monks made it very clear in sign language that I should not take any photographs. Which would have been pretty difficult anyway as it was quite dark in there…
The monks led me through a series of small rooms to a much larger one at the back. Where the lights were turned on illuminating an almost complete sand mandala, the first I had ever seen in person.
Much to my surprise they then indicated that I could take photos of the mandala. And of them working on it, but under no circumstances of anything else. They also made it abundantly clear that I had to walk very gently so as not to disturb the intricate patterns of the mandala by creating vibrations through the wooden floor.
Monks and Mandalas – The iPhone…
It really was a special experience that made me feel like I was part of an ancient ritual. Until that is I realized that the intricate patterns they were creating were not from memory, but from the iPhones they all had…
Not that the iPhone detracted from the incredible skill and detail that goes in to making the mandala…. Just that it was a very interesting juxtaposition!
Large sand mandalas like the one at Xinkangmao can take between 4-6 weeks to make. They are then the subject of some elaborate ceremonies as they ritually destroyed to symbolize one of the three key doctrines of Buddhism – the impermanence of life and the world in general.
Or in other words everything that exists is transient, in a constant state of flux and therefore temporary…
I felt truly honored to have been invited in by the monks. But, so as not to overstay my welcome, took my leave of them after about 30 minutes. Emerging back out in the courtyard again to the great relief of my friend Jun!
If you are interested in learning more about Tibetan culture, monks and mandalas check out this link to the excellent Yowangdu website.