Circles of healing, circles of peace
The creation of the inner mandala
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 21:10
Throughout last week, Wellesley’s Department of Religious and Spiritual Life hosted a series of events entitled “Circles of Healing Circles of Peace” as part of the Art and Soul Program. The week’s events began Monday afternoon in the Houghton Chapel with an opening ceremony, followed by a panel discussion Tuesday evening, chanting on Thursday night and the dismantling of the mandala on Sunday afternoon. The mandala, a geometric representation of the universe in Buddhist spirituality, was constructed by the nuns of the Keydong Nunnery.
The week’s events centered on the visiting nuns and their production of a large sand mandala in the Houghton Chapel. The sand mandala was created using vibrant grains of sand in order to create intricate geometric figures.
As James Kodera, professor of religion, explained, the term “mandala” is Sanskrit for “circle,” and thus the creation of the mandala represents the creation of a circle within ourselves. Ji Hyang Padma ’91, the Director of Spirituality and Education, explained her hope that the week’s events could “[give] students a moment to reflect and center and revitalize their sense of the sacred and the here and now.” While the nuns did inspire students to look within themselves, they also inspired students to look outside of their own communities and into the issue of global female education equality.
According to Ani Ngaoong, one of the senior visiting nuns, many of the sisters and other women concentrate through meditation to create inner mandalas, so creating a sand mandala for others was not a large leap. Through extensive pujas, a type of devotional chanting, the nuns are able to reach stability and tranquility within their hearts and minds. In short, they create a sacred space, a mandala, inside themselves. By recreating this inner mandala with colorful sand, the nuns of Keydong Nunnery share this place with others, thus promoting a global consciousness.
While the nunnery is currently located in Nepal, it was originally founded in Tibet; its residents were forced to flee the region in 1959. Accounts of this exile are plagued with loneliness and the desire to return home. However, Ani Ngaoong Dendoi explained how the the nun’s mental fortitude helped them cope. “We are thinking like it is not living everlasting. It’s coming and going,” she said.
Padma agreed, “Finding that place of stability and happiness inside… You’re centered inside.” When asked if she and her fellow sisters wished to return to Tibet, Ngaoong nodded eagerly, but commented that they support the Dalai Lama and “His Holiness’ decision [for an autonomous Tibet].”
While His Holiness’ Middle-Way Approach, which calls for Chinese rule over a self-ruling Tibet, is controversial among Tibetans, his approach toward the nun’s production of sand mandalas has been widely accepted. The nuns of Keydong Nunnery were the first female Tibetan spiritual leaders ever to be trained in the art of the sand mandala.
Padma explained that when the nuns created the mandala for His Holiness “he approved of it whole heartedly… So then everyone was very relaxed about it.”
While the number of students who attended the opening ceremony was rather low, a very large group was gathered in the chapel Sunday afternoon to witness the closing ceremony.
“It’s been beautiful to watch,” reflected Marilis Dugas ’16. “The way they move and do the art is so intricate. It’s spiritual itself.”
The calming effect on attendees was clear as music played while the group proceeded towards the lake to return the sand to nature.