Sand Mandalas, the Land and Tibetan Buddhism

Over the last week I have been following the creation and destruction of a Tibetan Sand Mandala, created luckily just five minutes from my work in Perth. The creation of this Mandala, like all of them, was an extraordinary experience. It was led by Venerable Genla Thupten Lodey, a Tibetan Monk who came to Perth from the Gyuto Tantric University in 1994 and liked it so much he stayed 🙂

One fundamental message of the Sand Mandalas is impermanence; weeks of painstaking work and meditation laying out individual grains of sand is, at the conclusion transcended as the Mandala is destroyed and the sand swept up.

My experience this time was awe-inspiring. I joined in several morning praises and chanting meditations, meditated with them as they constructed the Mandala – which of course is only an outer form of an intense inner process where a three dimensional deity ‘palace’ is created. I also witnessed, for the first time, the full closing ceremony.

The overall experience left me inspired, touched and blessed, as much of Tibetan practice does. I found myself wishing, not for the first time, how much I want Western public religion to offer the depth Tibetan Buddhism does. Genla Lodey and the monks from India displayed a beautiful intensity of compassion and insight. The rituals were obviously operating on many levels, not just the outer which is often the case with western religion. The monks were clearly also skilled in ritual, meditation and prayer to a degree seldom seen in a Christian priest.

Tibetan Buddhism continues to grow throughout the west. There are many reasons for this – though I think the ones listed above are important. My co-teacher Morgana of the Servants of Isis is also convinced it is the trendiness of adherents like Richard Geer that has helped it grow so fast. I’m sure it has helped. But, because I was at the closing ceremony this time there is another aspect that I feel is central – the Land.

I’ve always known Tibetan Buddhism, and the Sand Mandala process works with the Land, but I have never seen it so manifest before. As part of the ceremony the swept up sand is taken to the river and offered to the river spirits. These are invited, along with the Land Spirits to attend and take the blessings of the ceremony. As we sat by the river, with a wine cruise ferry chugging past and a kayaker watching in bemusement, the Land and River Spirits came to the call and chanting of the monks. Their presence was real and tangible and fell across the small group of supporters. It was an amazing experience for me, one which I will always carry.

One of my inner plane contacts has made it clear that all religious and spiritual traditions need to work with and respect the land of any place they are introduced into (see The Land, the People and the Esoteric). Otherwise the spiritual tradition, indeed the people will not grow healthily and flourish. Christianity, in all various competing manifestations has not linked to this Land – indeed it was part and parcel of the actions that supported much abuse against the original peoples of this Land. Tibetan Buddhism works with the Land, as well as providing deep esoteric and exoteric avenues for spiritual and religious growth. And I think this has something to do with its growth in the West over the last 40 years.

All of this encourages me even more to always include the Land in my spiritual work, even in those traditions where it has been historically absent, like the Golden Dawn.

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