Time-lapse Mandala
October 21, 2009 4:09 PM   Subscribe

Time-lapse video, shot from overhead, of Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery creating a sand mandala over 5 days: Eight frames per second (1:30); Thirty frames per second (0:23). [via MeFi's Own™ carter]
posted by not_on_display (22 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I've always been amazed by this. The artistry of it is incredible, of course, but the truly amazing thing for me is the complete lack of ego in it. Can you imagine any of the artists we admire taking that long to painstakingly produce such a work of art only to destroy it the moment they're done?
posted by twirlypen at 4:20 PM on October 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'd be terrified of smudging it with my robe. Prior to the clean sweep, that is. I bet I'd be aces at the sweeping.
posted by Panjandrum at 4:24 PM on October 21, 2009

Shouldn't this video be destroyed? Its mere existence kind of ruins the point.
posted by Flunkie at 4:27 PM on October 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

I watched this group create a mandala at Emory a while back; it was fantastic. The patience, concentration and artistry was fascinating, and so was the fact that occasionally a monk that wasn't currently working on the mandala would be happy to explain what was happening, how and the significance of such. Also, I really love Drepung Loseling. :D
posted by neewom at 4:29 PM on October 21, 2009

That guy on the blue side is really holding up the production. He needs to get it together.
posted by motorcycles are jets at 4:31 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ahh ... ahh ... no, it's OK, I think I can hold it ba ... AH-CHOO!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:34 PM on October 21, 2009

I remember some TV commercial from a few years back where some monks are creating a sand mandala and a woman leans in to take a picture of it, but sneezes and blows the whole thing away. Don't remember what it was for but I'd like to find it again.
posted by smoothvirus at 4:38 PM on October 21, 2009

Very cool link, thanks.

Can you imagine any of the artists we admire taking that long to painstakingly produce such a work of art only to destroy it the moment they're done?

I'm not sure I would want them to. The philosophical reasons for destroying a mandala make sense but I prefer beauty to stick around.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:39 PM on October 21, 2009

From wikipedia:
The Sand Mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of mandalas made from colored sand. A sand mandala is ritualistically destroyed once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolize the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.

The destruction of a sand mandala is also highly ceremonial. Even the deity syllables are removed in a specific order, along with the rest of the geometry until at last the mandala has been dismantled. The sand is collected in a jar which is then wrapped in silk and transported to a river (or any place with moving water), where it is released back into nature. For this reason, the materials keeping with the symbolism are never used twice.
The visuals of the construction and the end product are fantastic, and the ritual behind the creation and destruction is fascinating.

This blog post has nice pictures and details of the ritual and creation of sand (or ground stone) mandalas, including a note on destruction: if mandala is placed in high-traffic areas, people who pass by and bystanders are encouraged to step on random parts, introducing an element of chance. I have a feeling that an accidental sneeze or other form of destruction would be accepted as part of the process, or an element of the world, but I could be wrong.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:44 PM on October 21, 2009

A sand post that isn't a duplicate. Shocking.
posted by smackfu at 4:59 PM on October 21, 2009

All hail the internet where mandalas are created and destroyed in 23 seconds.
posted by not applicable at 5:18 PM on October 21, 2009

Finally, a permanent reminder about the impermanence of things. I've copied this to my RAID array just in case.
posted by mike_bling at 5:35 PM on October 21, 2009

Don't miss this if you have a chance to see it in person. It's amazing. These monks came to my city and I stopped by every afternoon for a week to watch the progress. I still have some of the sand- at the end of the ceremony they passed it out to anyone who wanted some.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 6:30 PM on October 21, 2009

I can highly recommend the documentary "Wheel of time" by Werner Herzog. Beside many insights into Buddhism traditions it also shows the creation of a couple of mandalas.
posted by nostrada at 7:41 PM on October 21, 2009

Simply awesome. I could see that done a thousand times and never lose my gapmouthed amazement.

A number of years ago, I was spending a few days at a Tibetan monastery in Ladakh and sat in on an art class. The young monks very patiently tried to show my companions and I the basics of sand mandala construction. How to hold the little metal funnel the sand's kept in, how to balance it on one knee just so, how to scrape the funnel's ridges with a stick in a smooth rhythmic manner to get a slow steady flow of sand. Just the absolute basics of it felt at least as complicated as learning to write in cursive for the first time, never mind actually getting the falling sand to land in just the right shapes and depths to contribute to a vast puzzle of a mandala.

This is like being able to glassblow a Van Gogh while holding an advance yoga position live before a studio audience or something. Awesome.
posted by gompa at 7:48 PM on October 21, 2009

Hi everyone, thanks for the comments. And many thanks for posting this, not_on_display :) IANAT, but I would like to think that Tibetans could approve a video such as this.

One reason would be that the original process is beneficial for the world, with the sand mandala being imbued with positive and beneficial religious power (approx. translation) during its construction, and this power subsequently being distributed into the world for the good of the world, when the mandala is swept up and thrown into a river. As the original ritual is powerful, so too are any representations of that process (although to a lesser degree). So any representations are good, even on the Internet. It's interesting to think of the WWW as a digital distribution river that reaches the world.

Also, the video reproduces the original mandala creation and scattering process. By running the video, the person who runs it is reproducing the ceremony, and recreating the benefits. In effect, the video viewer is sending a small amount of positive religious power into the world, which is good for the world, and also for the viewer, as this positive act on their part in turn generates an amount of good karma for the viewer, that will aid them in their next reincarnation.

Tibetans often use technology to multiply the effects of sacred prayer. A Tibetan prayer wheel, for example, consists of prayers (approx. translation) printed on a long strip of paper, that is then wrapped around a spindle and then placed in a rotating drum. Small and large versions exist. Every time the drum is rotated, the rotator is in effect saying the the prayer, multiplied by the number of times the that the prayer is printed on the paper strip (which is good for the world, and also for the rotator, as this positive act in turn generates an amount of good karma for them, that will aid them in their next reincarnation).

If you live in Philadelphia, Losang Samten is constructing two mandalas in the coming months: a Kalachakra mandala at at the Gershman Y/University of the Arts building at Broad and Pine, October 26-November 22, and another mandala at the Philadelphia Folklore Project from November 30-December 5.
posted by carter at 9:32 PM on October 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

Flagged as "delete to drive philosophical point home."

I think this is awesome, carter, and thank you for explaining your reasons for documenting the Mandala like this. I hope to see one of these in real life someday.
posted by Corduroy at 11:36 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

n_o_d, you blew my mind a little, then filthy light thief stepped on it a bit more, but you guys were followed up by the master, VERNER effbomb HERSOCKS and damn if he just didn't already do everything cool and get the t-shirt for free.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:47 PM on October 21, 2009

These guys have been to Savannah a couple of times over the years and it's always amazing to see them.

They first came in back in 2002 and at first it was pretty "Oh, that's neat" when they arrived. I went to take some pictures of them working. Got there and there was a palatable energy in the room as people watched in amazement at the intricate nature of the work, lots of talking and pointing and just sheer awe. It was impossible not to get excited by what was happening, seeing the monks patiently mix colors and flow sand into the design. Found a stepladder, put the camera on tripod and then climbed up on the stepladder holding the tripod with camera like a boom over the monks, getting a few pictures.

But the closing ceremony was the most amazing aspect, the room was packed and filled with such positive energy as the monks chatted, rang bells and blew the horns and cast one of the most spiritual spells I've ever seen or felt. We then filed out of the museum where the ceremonies were and walked 3 blocks to the Savannah River for a final prayer and dispersing of the sand from the mandala into the Savannah River.

This all sounds ho hum perhaps, but being there and witnessing it as it takes place is incredible. This was the first time the monks had come to Savannah and they literally stopped traffic as they left the building and walked to the river, crowds milling around and following. They completely disrupted the city as they walked through, I don't think any of the officials had fully understood they effect this would have. Normal everyday aspects of modern life just STOPPED, as cars slowed and then were forced to stop, tourists milling about put their cameras down (at least for a few seconds) people started leaning out of windows and the it seemed like monks moved and pulsed like blood through the veins of the city, culminating in a moving ceremony at the pier.

The monks returned in 2006, morepictures taken, and video of the closing ceremonies at the museum (1, 2)and releasing the sand into the river. I was hanging off the pier with one leg wrapped to the metal banister to get that shot, wound up burning myself a bit, but it was totally worth it.

Also shot video of the closing ceremonies from 2009. That video is a bit long and the initial audio is garbled, but worth the wait for viewing the destruction of the mandala.

Long story short, if you ever have the chance to see the monks, GO SEE THEM. It's an incredibly great and moving experience.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:15 AM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I visited the Buffalo Science Museum this summer. The "Body Worlds" exhibit was there at the time, but I have to say the permanent exhibits weren't that impressive, as science museums go; I don't particularly recommend the museum.

With one exception: they do have an amazing sand mandala there. The mandala was made in 1991 (photos of its making are on nearby walls) and is now under a glass case so it can't be disrupted. I had very mixed feelings on this: on the one hand, I was thrilled to see something of such exquisite beauty; on the other hand, it seemed to be very much missing the point to be preserving it under a protective glass case.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:56 AM on October 22, 2009

We have a pair of Tibetan monks at the university where I work. One teaches and the other is his assistant. Very interesting gentlemen. They've made two sand mandalas. When they were making the first one, I took the kids to see the progress and we went for the destruction. They also had a second table nearby and showed people how to use the tools. Unfortunately, I didn't get to view the second one.

It's definitely an amazing process to watch.
posted by lilywing13 at 4:52 PM on October 22, 2009

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