Sand Mandalas Are Meant To Be Destroyed. Image Source: Pembe Sakuram

Sand Mandalas Are Meant To Be Destroyed

Sand Mandalas—a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of mandalas is made from colored sand. Sand Mandalas are ritualistically dismantled once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.

The sand mandalas signify more than impermanence, they’re meant to be a representation of the world in divine form, one that heals both the Earth and its inhabitants. Sand painting is an intricate process.

For the construction of Sand Mandalas, plain white stones are ground down and dyed with opaque inks to achieve the same effect. The monks use a special, extremely dense sand in order to limit interference by things like wind or sneezes.

Making of Sand Mandala. Image Source: Oklahoma Humanities Council

Making of Sand Mandala. Image Source: Oklahoma Humanities Council

Sand Mandalas traditionally take several weeks to build due to a large amount of work involved in laying down the sand in such intricate detail. First, the monk holds an opening ceremony where the land is consecrated with music, chants, prayers, and mantras. Then, the monks meticulously map out their mandala’s geometric patterns. This takes a lot of work.

After at least a full day of drawing, they apply naturally dyed grains of Himalayan sand using special copper funnels and a scraper in a process that could take weeks. Multiple monks work to complete the design, then hold a second consecration ceremony before dismantling the whole shebang.

The process itself, as laborious, as precise, as artistic, as stunningly powerful as it is, is not really the message.

Sweeping off the sand mandala. Image Source: lizkirkham

Sweeping off the sand mandala. Image Source: lizkirkham

When the mandala is finally finished, however long it takes for the monks to deal in this divine geometry of heavens, they pray over it –and then they destroy it. They sweep it up, every last grain of sand and give handfuls of it away to those who participate in the closing ceremony as a final memory.

They throw the rest of the sand into the nearest stream to be swept into the ocean to bless the whole world. And that’s it, it’s gone. In an instant, after all that artistry, all that work, it’s over.

The underlying message of the mandala ceremony is that nothing is permanent. The destruction of a sand mandala is highly ceremonial. Even the deity syllables are removed in a specific order along with the rest of the geometry until at last the mandala has been dismantled.

Nothing is permanent, and everything could disappear without a trace. It’s important to cherish the things you have now, but let things go just the same. It strengthens the ties of humanity the world away.

The demolition of the Sand Mandalas may ruin the beautiful creation, but it holds a special meaning and message. Let us know if you want to share something about Sand Mandalas in the comments below.