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The Significance of a Grain of Sand

October 23, 2010

by Valerie Granuzzo

Buddhist monk Lama Karma Chopal, students and Albany community members will work together next week to combine different colors of sand in an intricate design called a mandala. This art making is part of a project sponsored by The College of Saint Rose to celebrate the tenth year of the Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary. The mandala’s creation will begin Monday  and run through Friday.

The creation of the sand mandala is a Tibetan Buddhism tradition. Different grains of brightly-colored sands are poured into a wooden circle to make an elaborate design. The monk assigned to the project draws out a design and then small tubes are used to direct the sand according to the drawing.

The sand mandala represents the Buddhist idea of impermanence and that nothing is ever constant. At the end of

Sand being poured on to a sand mandala during one of Lama Chopal’s previous visits

the week when the mandala is completed, the sands are swept into the middle, gathered into a container and then, in tradition, scattered in a nearby body of water to spread the mandala’s blessing into the community.

This creation of this sand mandala is unusual because Lama Chopal has come alone to make it. Often times, this creation is part of a larger ceremony made by various lamas who come together and make the mandala as a community, according to David Rook, director of the Shambhala Meditation Center in the Pine Hills neighborhood.

“Sand mandalas are very beautiful,” said Rook, who described them as an art form. He said that while individuals may find the presence of the Lama inspiring and the process of creating the mandala interesting, it’s not enough to convey Buddhist teachings, which can be very complex. “It’s like walking through a living museum. It doesn’t actually begin to train anyone,” he said, describing the Tibetan cultural icon.

Exterior of Shambhala Meditation Center’s building (Valerie Granuzzo)

While the creation of the sand mandala may only touch the surface of Buddhism, the events of the week will offer opportunities for those interested to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism beliefs and practices. Throughout the week, various guests will lecture on topics related to Buddhism and offer guided meditation.

“What is important to bear in mind is that this is not simply a matter of learning about others who seem different from us.  It is also an opportunity to learn about ourselves in the process,” said Michael Brannigan, a professor of philosophy at Saint Rose. “There are depths of wisdom we can learn from other faith traditions.”

While the event represents a Buddhist tradition, people of all faiths are encouraged to come and be a part of the event either through observation or by joining in.

“He can’t do the project alone so people who come can participate and support the creation of the mandala,” said Joan Horgan, director of campus ministry at the college and the organizer of the weeklong event. The Lama will provide instruction and assistance to anyone who wishes to help.

Lama Chopal will be working each day from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. at the Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary on the Saint Rose campus. The building is open each night until 10 p.m. for visitors who wish to see the sand mandala’s progress.

Lama Chopal works with students to create the sand mandala (Valerie Granuzzo)

Lama Chopal comes to Albany from Charlottesville, W.Va. where he has established a dharma center for Buddhist teachings. This is his third visit to the Saint Rose campus for the creation of the sand mandala.

For details related to the Lama’s visit and the week’s programs, please see: -30-


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