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Creating compassion and sand mandalas at the Moody

Sammi Frey / Thresher An opening ritual for the creation of the sand mandala was hosted at the Moody earlier this week. The construction of the mandala will continue all week with a dissolution ritual Friday, Oct. 20.

By Shreya Challa     10/17/23 11:50pm

Monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery in India constructed a Tibetan sand mandala in a series of rituals Monday, Oct. 16. The opening ritual was held from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Monday, and the mandala will remain on public viewing until the dissolution ritual Friday, Oct. 20 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

A public lecture to accompany the exhibit was held Tuesday, Oct. 17 at the Moody Center’s Lois Chiles Studio Theater on the concepts of death, bardo and rebirth.

According to Eric Huntington, T. T. and W. F. Chao Assistant Professor in the Department of Transnational Asian Studies, the creation of the mandala is taking place at the Moody Center for the Arts to showcase visual and material culture. Huntington was one of the four faculty and staff members responsible for organizing the events.

“It’s not like an artwork that goes in the museum and resides there permanently. It’s this laborious process of distributing colors on this flat surface that will take four or five monks a week to create,” Huntington said. “On Friday, there’s a dissolution ritual where they destroy the mandala and offer the blessings again. It’s more than an artistic exhibition. It’s a demonstration of a particular kind of ritual practice that ties into Buddhist philosophy. It’s a tiny little slice of a whole cultural complex.”

Huntington said that even though the mandala is an artistic object, it is also meant to be a tool and mechanism to purify, enlighten and empower people.

“The mandala that we’re asking to be constructed here is a depiction of a Bodhisattva figure, who in Buddhism is the symbol of wisdom. The mandala actually depicts the palace of this deity … It’s a two-dimensional representation of this imagined space where the Bodhisattva resides and can be invoked,” Huntington said. “The reason we selected this is because Rice University’s symbol is the Owl of Athena, the symbol of wisdom.”

Geshe Tenzin Lekshey, one of the monks creating the sand mandala, said the monks started touring the U.S. Sept. 29 last year and will visit more than 30 states in two years. 

“The world is not peaceful. We are polluted with many negative energies and interactions,” Geshe Lekshey said. “At that time, we really need mental support or something that can keep our mind more balanced with not falling into our default negative emotions.”

Huntington said the role of the School of Humanities is to expose students to different cultures and ideas, and providing opportunities to learn beyond the classroom is vital.

“Of course we offer courses on Buddhism, but it’s different hearing it from us as instructors than it is experiencing bits of actual Buddhist culture from real practitioners,” Huntington said. “Many people, not just from Rice but from the larger Houston community, are coming to this event. It’s just an augmentation to the wonderful education we have at Rice to be able to have these kinds of cultural events to reach out between different communities.”

Geshe Lekshey said that he hoped that the events this week will encourage viewers to reflect on their mindsets. 

“Our purpose of the tour is the message of compassion,” Geshe Lekshey said. “How to enhance knowledge and wisdom is by working through loving, kindness and compassion so that we can reach the point that we call ultimate wisdom. That is enlightenment.”

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