Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 10, 2006

Enjoy the moment before it's swept away

"Mom, I got my picture taken with a Buddhist monk today," daughter Mariya told me excitedly.

I had read that Tibetan monks were on campus as part of the K-State Union's 50th anniversary celebration. They were constructing a mandala - a sand painting - which symbolizes the natural harmony of all things physical, emotional and spiritual and is often used to consecrate a place. Mariya's excitement and what I had read convinced me I should see what it was all about.

When I arrived at the Union, people were crowding around a table on the courtyard level and others were lined up along the first- and second-floor balconies. Many were snapping pictures or videotaping.

I watched as the monks used metal funnels to place the colorful grains of sand in an ornate design on the five-foot-square table. They ran a metal rod along the grated surface of the funnels, which caused the sand to flow out in a small stream. The table was roped off so the monks could work without being jostled, but they didn't seem to mind as people came in close to view their work and to take close-up shots. Their circular design included intricate geometric shapes of brilliant colors.

I decided my friends at work needed to see this. I ran across the street to Kedzie and found three of them discussing some urgent work-related matter. I interrupted them.

"You have to come if even for a few minutes," I said.

They seemed skeptical.

"It's a cultural experience you won't want to miss," I urged them again. I didn't wait for their eyes to roll back in a "Gloria has gone loony" look, but turned and headed back to the Union, camera dangling from my shoulder.

I moved around the mandala to see it from different angles and distances. I then went to the balcony for another view. I was pleased to see my friends had taken me up on my suggestion. They spotted me and soon joined me.

The seven monks had been wearing simple maroon robes, but when it was time for the closing ceremony, they added bright yellow shawls and yellow head coverings. For about 20-30 minutes, they alternately chanted and played cymbals, drums and different horns. They also did throat singing, which is a tradition of the Tibetan culture.

I noticed a few people were checking their watches or talking on their cell phones. My friends left, saying they really had to get back to work.

I started getting fidgety as well and was tempted to go back, too. This was taking longer than I had expected.

Then I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and concentrated on the chanting. "Being one in the moment" is a part of Buddhist culture and I needed to put away my Western attitude of always being in a hurry.

The monks took off the yellow shawls and hats and then gently swept the sand into the middle of the table. The destruction of the mandala symbolizes the impermanence of all that exists.

Part of the sand was put into a small urn to be poured into the creek running near the International Student Center. The rest was put into small zippered plastic bags and distributed to those of us in attendance as blessings for personal health and healing. It was suggested we might pour the sand into a river or a creek so it might eventually make the journey to the sea.

Mariya said she was going to take hers with her on her international trips to disperse at various locations. She said she had taken a picture of her friend Josh blowing a bubble gum bubble while standing next to one of the monks. He told her it had always been one of his dreams to do just that.

A friend said she was going to pour her sand into Wildcat Creek. Perhaps I'll do the same.

But for now, I'm going to keep it to remind me to slow down a bit before I, too, must return to the sea.

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