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The mandala’s magic: Tibetan Buddhist monks visit Evergreen

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By Deborah Swearingen

Two Tibetan Buddhist monks, clothed in robes of maroon and gold, meticulously pour colorful grains of sand into an intricate design while sitting cross-legged on the floor of Congregation Beth Evergreen last Wednesday.

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Hours later, as their work for the day concluded, the monks would perform sacred music, chanting mantras and performing an instrumental accompaniment. And days later still, the elaborate sand mandala would be destroyed and sprinkled into the waters of Evergreen Lake to symbolize the impermanence of life.

“Everything is changing. Our life also going through change. One day we are going to die,” said Geshe Tsewang Dorje, emphasizing the mandala’s purpose.

The sand mandala, which is actually created with pulverized rock from the Himalayas, is a diagram of a celestial palace where a Buddhist deity lives and are meant to help humans generate compassion and understand the ephemerality of all things.

For Geshe Tsewang Dorje, the whole point of life is to be a kind and loving person. That’s a tenet of his Buddhist faith and a large part of why he was so excited to partake in the Great Compassion Mandala Tour.

“Through the mandala, I am going to share the peace and love to the other. … I am very, very happy to share my peaceful, happy and joy with others,” he said.

He certainly had a chance to do so. Over three days, while the monks worked on their colorful creation, people of all types, including several groups of students, stopped by Congregation Beth Evergreen to witness the magic of the mandala. The crowds listened to Geshe Tsewang Dorje share the importance of compassion and often joined in the recitation of the mantra “om mani padme hum.”

“We all same. We all humans,” Geshe Tsewang Dorje told the crowd, noting the need for connectivity across religions and cultures.

Additionally, however, as executive director of the Ngari Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in India, Geshe Tsewang Dorje also was on a mission to raise education and food funds to benefit the children staying at the institute.

The Ngari Institute strives to preserve Tibetan Buddhist culture in the Himalayan region. Decades after it was founded, the monks established hostel to provide educational opportunities for less fortunate children and orphans, and the project was endorsed by the Office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

The path to Evergreen

For years, Patti Stone wanted to bring a mandala tour to Evergreen. Finally, this summer, she worked with a friend who has coordinated the tours before and connected with the monks. Her timing was perfect, and Evergreen was added as the final stop of the Great Compassion Mandala Tour.

“It just felt like it was time,” Stone said.

It’s tough for her to verbalize what the experience meant, particularly because all three monks stayed in her home for the week.

“The experience of having them live in your house for a week is amazing,” she said. “They’re fantastic.

“I don’t know of a community that does not need compassion, and the mandala is the bodhisattva of compassion.”

Pamela Ramadei, Stone’s friend and a former Evergreen resident, returned to town for several days to witness the creation and dissolution of the mandala. Overall, she said it was a beautiful experience.

“It’s a very sacred situation,” Ramadei said.