A week of cultural sharing comes to an end

NASHUA – Those who embraced the Tibetan Buddhist monks during their stay in the city must now practice the Buddhist concept of nonattachment and say goodbye to their new friends.

Throngs of people crowded into the foyer of the Nashua High School north campus Sunday to watch the final ceremony of an event-filled week: the dismantling of the sand mandala.

It took the monks all week to create the mandala, a geometric pattern 5 feet in diameter that is made from millions of grains of brightly colored sand.

The monks, from the Drepung Gomang Monastery in southern India, stopped in Nashua as part of a 25-state U.S. tour intended to share Tibetan culture with Americans.

In his opening remarks Sunday, Principal Pat Corbin mentioned that the school had received several complaints that it opened its doors to the monks.

He stood by the decision, he said, calling the monks’ visit a culturally enriching experience and an opportunity to enter a dialogue with another culture firsthand.

“Rarely do we have that opportunity,” he said.

Peter Majoy, the director of Nashua Essential School Academy, which sponsored the mandala creation, noted that those who watched the artwork being made all responded with a sense of fascination, no matter what their age.

He likened it to the awe people feel looking up into a starry sky.

Judging from the rapt attention of even the youngest members of the audience, the sense of awe continued during Sunday’s program, which included chanting and a talk by tourleader Geshe Tenpa Sonam, who explained the mandala’s significance.

Monk Ngawang Gyatso, translating for Sonam and adding his own commentary throughout, explained that the mandala depicts an imaginary palace filled with Buddhist symbols that is contemplated by practitioners during meditation.

In ancient times, precious and semi-precious gems such as rubies and corals were ground for their color and used to create the mandalas. Because of the expense involved, the monks no longer follow that practice, instead grinding up flint stones and coloring them with vegetable dye. The natural dye is used so that when the mandala is swept up and thrown into a nearby river, it doesn’t harm the environment, Gyatso said.

The monks make the mandalas entirely from memory.

“It is not a self-creation,” Gyatso said.

The dismantling of the artwork, in addition to symbolizing the impermanence of all things, is to “train the mind to let go,” Gyatso said.

He also told the crowd that the monks were not there “to send a message that Buddhism was good for everyone.” While interaction with other traditions was important, he urged those in attendance to stick to whatever tradition made them happy.

“Happiness is religion really,” he said.

Toward the end of the ceremony, Sonam circled the mandala several times before cutting into the design. His action brought the crowd to its feet.

Two monks then began sweeping the sand toward the center of the mandala with ordinary paintbrushes, transforming the intricate and complex patterns into a mound of rainbow-colored sand.

Using the “Do Not Touch” signs that had guarded the mandala all week, the monks scooped and poured the sand into containers.

The monks, their leather shoes peeking out beneath their robes, then led a procession to the Nashua River, which flows behind the school. Children and adults ran to keep up. As the monks made their way down the path, a large heron flew along the top of the river.

With a couple of swift motions from Sonam, the sand was released into the water. According to their literature, the monks believe the waters then carry healing energies throughout the world.

“The echoes of this will last a long, long time,” Majoy said.