Remember sand art from when you were a kid? It's that craft where you took a clear, empty bottle and poured in layer upon layer of colored sand until the whole thing was filled to the brim. (And then you'd set it in your bedroom for a while and over time the sand would settle a bit and your sand art didn't look so pretty anymore and you ended up chucking it. Sigh.) Now, with that image in mind, let's kick that craft up a bazillion notches and consider the sand mandala.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the mandala is a symbolic, graphic representation of the universe rendered in colored sand. While creating the intricately geometric forms grain by grain, the monks chant and meditate over the slowly-evolving image, which, according to their practice, transmits positive energy to those nearby. After the mandala is completed, it is swept away and the sand is traditionally collected and dispersed in a body of flowing water—an act that is representative of the transitory nature of material existence.
Some of you may remember a special 2002 event at the Freer where, over the course of two weeks, Buddhist monks created a mandala in response to the September 11 tragedies. (You can see a time lapse video of that event here.) Well, the Buddhists are back and between March 13 and 20, they will be creating another mandala masterpiece. If you're in the DC metro area, make it out to the Freer a few times over the next week and see how the artwork is progressing. The museum has posted a full schedule of when you can see the monks at work. But keep in mind: the disillusionment ceremony—that's the part where everything gets swept away—happens on March 21.
So the next time you throw out the sand art on your dresser, don't take it as a failed artistic venture—think of yourself as having taken one baby step on the path to enlightenment.