Sand Mandala at the Philadelphia Cathedral

For the past two weeks, the Philadelphia Cathedral has been hosting Losang Samten, a Buddhist monk from Tibet, who spent his days there creating a Mandala–an 8′-diameter sand painting/sculpture. Mandalas are a form of iconography in which millions of grains of sand are laid down into patterns that represent the cosmos and everything in it; but they are, being nonpermanent installations (except as photographed), ephemeral. Now that the Mandala is complete, it will be available for public viewing through February 2. After the 10 a.m. service on Sunday, the congregation will sweep the sands back to the river, handful by handful.

The Philadelphia Bulletin reported on the Mandala construction:

For two weeks, Losang Samten, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, has been rasping fine lines of sand out of a metal tube to create careful images that portray the frailty of the human condition and the consequences of giving in to the “poisons” of ignorance, greed and anger. Every image carries symbolism, from the trio of animals at the center (pig, pigeon and snake, corresponding to the three poisons) to the six surrounding landscapes to the evolving love story around the perimeter. The images cycle from infancy through death, tying together pain and joy, yin and yang, and showing the consequences of giving in to the three poisons. According to Buddhist beliefs, in order to cure suffering, one must train the mind to notice and eliminate the poisons, and so the “Wheel of Life” provides a tool for meditation and contemplation on this life-long journey.

The detailed workmanship is astounding. Using varying finenesses of sand, Mr. Samten outlines bricks, miniscule arrows and the decorative trim of a woman’s dress and sculpts buildings, mountains and rivers. He blends colors, so a band of yellow fades to green to meet the dominant blue of the largest circle. Although the overall effect is two-dimensional, Mr. Samten periodically turns off the overhead lights and uses a side-light to highlight the sand’s relief, and suddenly ocean waves and fruit trees come to life with depth and shadows.

The Evening Bulletin story is here.

More from the Philadelphia Cathedral site, including pictures, is here. The Philadelphia Inquirer has several photos in this gallery, as well as a story here.

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