Why do monks make and destroy mandala?

In eastern Asia, there lies a range of mountains. The greatest ones, the roof of the whole planet. At the top of the world, in these misty mountains, there are Buddhist monasteries. In these monasteries there are monks who are dressed with the most simple outfits that you can encounter, most of the time monks are trying to do nothing. As a part of nothing, they also do mandala.

Mandala… who knows what it actually means, or what it’s meant to be? Everything decays, every object, life corrupts. Everything, all there is meant to be destroyed. So, does the mandala. 

First, I must tell you I don’t claim to know anything. This is just a reflection of what is reflected to me. This is what I see from my viewpoint, through watching a tiny, small screen; conversely seeing great worlds on it and imagining even greater ones and beyond.

Mandala is an art form originating from Hindu and Buddhist cultures. It’s basically drawing geometric patterns that symbolizes the life and the universe. Personally, I would say a symbol of what we see in life instead of a symbol of life in order to prevent this label from transforming into a dogma. Neither Buddhists nor westerners don’t know what is life and what the universe looks like. They only try to give a picture of what they see, not what it is.

In creating a mandala, Buddhist monks gather around and start to draw and paint a graphic symbol of the universe. It’s usually a square enclosed with a circle. There are often deities to the sides. The order of the shapes, the harmony aids the individual to embrace the unity of being, in other words, the order of the cosmos. The shape is chaotic, yet it has a kind of order. When it’s done with colored sands, the graphic, the artwork is dismantled at the end. The sands are mixed, the universe is destroyed. 

Why they do it? Why do you do any work or leisure? It’s an expression of what there is in that context. This is a ritual of the Buddhist tradition. Like all rituals, whether it’s in the court of law or Christianity, it represents what they do and what they mean. It’s the essence of their context, an abstract, a summary. We’re all participating in a cooperative Mandala work-game. Then we’re all destroyed at the end. Nobody survives or everyone passes.

The thing with Mandala is it’s presented in sacredness. There is a holy aspect. Things become holy if they’re respected by a community and they’re respected on the account of its useful, pragmatic value. All sacraments were once useful knowledge, most of them are still functional. They’re usually fundamental, concise expressions. Similar to other rituals of other traditions, mandala tells us about Buddhism and its way of life.

The monks draw and paint the shapes elegantly. It’s a show that you’d want to see. The seriousness, devoutness of monks is astonishing. It takes days to complete and a few moments to destroy it. They’re completely aware of futility. The exact aim is to be futile actually. It’s the embodiment of Buddhism.

We can observe the basic tenets of Buddhism in this artwork. Namely, Four Noble Truths,

  • 1. Life is suffering, you’ll suffer inevitably. Do it consciously.
  • 2. There is a cause behind the suffering, it’s desire
  • 3.  You can end this suffering through ending desire
  • 4. The path for ending is eightfold path, which is basically right action.

You see, how unbearable is to destroy a craft right after the completion, yet it’s what you have to do in this life. Not only craft, but the artist is also going to be destroyed. You’re going to be destroyed. Your ideal, static world is only in your head. The external world, it’s all temporary. The objective world is made to be temporary. This world is going to be erased.

Shiva will destroy it because it was created in the first place, and Vishnu created it to be destroyed. That’s the essence of this culture and Mandala is a manifestation, a reflection of this predicament.

At the end, the sands are usually poured into a river. The pattern, connected structure was universe, the dismantling was death. Pouring into river symbolizes continuing the journey in a different dimension. River is continuation, the change and unity of being.

The message of mandala as far as I see is, There is death in relation to life and there is play in relation to work. Desire is suffering and solution is “not clinging.”

In order not to cling, first you have to notice the impermanence, there is nothing that “you” can cling to.

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