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The sand mandala is regarded within Tibetan Buddhism as sacred and, until 50 years ago, was rarely seen outside the monasteries. Architectural in structure, their complex and richly coloured designs have remained unchanged for over 500 years, the skills and secret meanings passed faithfully down through the generations from teacher to student
The monks make these exquisite mandalas from memory, approaching the task within the framework of ancient ceremonial Tantric ritual, and bringing to the process extraordinary patience and concentration.
The sand mandala is built from coloured sand, ground from rock and then poured precisely onto the mandala design using a 'chak-pu', a cone-shaped, fine-tipped metal funnel. To adjust the sand once it is on the blueprint, a metal scraper called a 'gyud-ti' (tantric knife) is used.
The mandala is constructed from the center outwards. Once the mandala is completed, it is then dismantled, first by the removal of each of the deities represented in the mandala and then with a 'dorje', the head lama cuts through the main lines, thus cutting the energy of the mandala. The remaining sand is then swept up into the center of the mandala and placed in an urn.
Typically the mandala process is completed in a ritual procession, where the monks carry the sand to the nearest moving water, and the sand is symbolically scattered to demonstrate life's impermanence.
The mandala is, in essence, a visualization tool, a symbol of a perfect world in which we are all perfect beings practicing the pure loving kindness and compassion that is innate in all living beings. Visualizing oneself in the
center of this perfect world of the mandala creates the conditions for us to behave towards others with kindness and compassion, which in turn, causes them to develop a similar outlook and leads to the creation of such a perfect world.