Last night I attended a lecture by a Tibetan monk on the subject of mandalas; on the symbolism of mandalas, as I struggled at times to keep awake during the lecture, the monk spoke in the strange Tibetan (or Hindi) language, while an interpreter standing before a rostrum in a large stage, translated into English, while the smiling bald monk sat in a chair beside him, resplendent in his orange robe. It was an interesting sight, the first time I have seen a Tibetan monk in the flesh where previously I saw them only on videos like some exotic species, although I have seen Buddhist monks in Thailand, also in their orange robes, there was a certain mystery and elegance of monks from Tibet. Perhaps it was the Dalai Lama, his eloquence and level headedness, his humility, twinkling eyes and his epic battle with Communist China or the legend of his escape from Lhasa that gave Tibetan monks a certain mystique and dignity equal to the majesty of Catholic cardinals and bishops. I have watched many DVDs on the struggles of Tibet or the Buddhist religion or even seen Buddhist artifacts in museums that it came like a revelation to see Tibetan monks and their religious artifacts before me.
The monks were building a mandala in the lobby, carefully laying out the sand with their esoteric instruments, seeing for the first time an actual mandala in construction, where previously I had seen the exotic patterns in the internet, using several images as computer wallpaper in Singapore, enthralled by the mystery of its geometric shapes. Watching the image in the sand was like a meditation, the mind in wonder that so much time, delicateness and focus is devoted to make an image in such a difficult medium and, finally, sweeping away the work in an instant, challenging the mind of its concepts, to just throw away what one has labored for several days like it was nothing. I had already watched a fast motion video of the creation and deconstruction of a mandala in You Tube, but the actual spectacle in front of one’s eyes provides a true cachet because a video does not capture the full spectacle and spiritual significance. Tomorrow I plan to go back during my lunch hour to catch the deconstruction ceremony; an event that I had understood as an intellectual concept but which one needs to actually see and feel as a mystical experience, similar perhaps to attending a Catholic mass in Latin.
But the true significance is to understand the impermanence of life, or that the result of labor does not need to have monetary value, or attachment to physical objects is folly and so on. Watching the mandala ceremony is like undertaking a lesson in spirituality, one need to be present to understand its meaning. In the evenings at home, I have been watching videos on the ceremonies of Tibetan monks, about the Book of the Dead, about Drepung Loseling Monastery and Buddhist chants that I have learned more this week than all the time spent in the past learning about Tibet, their art and religion. I have also been listening to the audio book Secret Millionaires that there seem to be a connection: one needs to live a simple and frugal life to be wealthy; not only in monetary resources but spiritual resources. In fact ‘real’ millionaires do not focus on material objects, spend little of their wealth in large homes, luxury cars or expensive clothes but invest in assets that gain value over time. I wonder if going to the Tibetan ceremonies or watching videos is a waste of time, but, in fact, there does not need to be a payoff but the participation in a trans-formative experience (or the possibility of it) to give life meaning.