Sunday May 27, 2018

A prayer for Nepal quake victims: Traditional manner of celebrating Buddha Purnima holds the key to solace in calamitous times

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By Gaurav Sharma

At a time when a horrendous earthquake has shattered Nepal by killing more than 7,000 people and injuring countless others, the world needs the blessings of the Buddha more than ever before.

Majority of the population in Nepal comprises of Hindus. But the landlocked country boasts a strong Buddhist tradition as well. In fact, Gautama Buddha was born at a place called Lumbini in the Himalayan kingdom. Most of the temples in Nepal are common places of worship for both Hindus and Buddhists.

This year, however, most of the temples in Nepal lie in ruins, devastated by the whiplashes of the Nepal earthquake.

Swayambhunath temple, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the nation will close its doors to the visitors for the fear of losing sacred objects and artifacts that no longer have the protection of temple.

However, irrespective of the desecration of the formal places of worship, which has left the bhakts (devotees) without any idol to offer their obeisance to, the prayers to and from Buddha will reach the mass of suffering people in Nepal nonetheless.

The traditional manner of celebrating Buddha Purnima holds the key to solace in such calamitous times.

Usually, the devout Buddhists and other followers assemble in the temple before dawn and sing hymns in praise of the holy trinity of The Buddha, the Sangha (disciples) and the Dhamma (his teachings).

The various offerings of candles, flowers, among other things, that they make at the feet of the teacher are symbolic of the ephemeral nature of life. As the candle flame burns out and the flowers wither away, the bubble of life will also in time.

In a symbolic act of Moksha or liberation, thousands of birds, animals are freed from captivity, to remind people not to torture someone against their will.

The happiness of other people or compassion assumes great significance in Buddhism and hence extols offering help to the aged, the sick and the handicapped.

But perhaps the greatest teaching of the Buddha, which holds a lesson in such traumatic and tragic times such as the Nepal calamity, are his words at the time of death.

When he saw his attendant weeping for his imminent passing away, the Buddha told him not to weep but to follow his teachings and understand the Universal Law of disintegration of every compounded thing:

If this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist.

By leading a noble life of peace and love, we can conquer death.

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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)