Awake in the World

“It is amazing that something so beautiful will be destroyed. But then again, that is the story of our lives.” — Woman who watched the creation of a sand mandala

Tibetan Buddhist monks spend days creating exquisite sand mandalas only to destroy them. They draw out elaborate geometric patterns on a platform then tap out tiny, vibrantly colored grains of sand to create masterful works of art. Their work requires days and sometimes weeks to complete with several monks usually working together. Once the art is completed, a ceremony is performed to consecrate it and then with the sweep of a brush it is ceremonially dissolved. The sands of the mandala are swept into a gray mass and taken to a river so it may be carried to the sea.

When I first saw this, the power of it astonished me. How could someone who has spent days and weeks creating something so beautiful destroy it? The message to me was clear – it represents the process of life and the mandalas are powerful tools that teach about impermanence. In the West especially, we shun aging and decay. We hide things that appear old and put them in closets, throw them out – and if they’re people we put them in homes out of the public eye. We worship youth, but we have a hard time accepting the process of change which includes dissolution and decay.

These sand mandalas can be ways of teaching us to accept and help us to grieve loss and to heal. After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Loesling Drepung monks from India who stay periodically in Georgia, were encouraged by the Dalai Lama to create a healing sand mandala. The Sackler Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. hosted them and there was an outpouring of appreciation from visitors. They remarked on the healing power, the patience, the depth and how they were brought a deep acceptance of the nature of life as it takes us through birth, life and eventually death. It was all beauty – even the dissolution.

The ways the monks with their sand mandalas encourage us to embrace change can teach us much about acceptance and understanding of life. If you’re inspired, create your own healing mandala in a drawing, in sand or in your imagination. Honor it and then offer it to the Divine. If you feel moved to, dissolve or destroy it later.

Bio: Debra Moffitt is author of Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life. A visionary and teacher, she’s devoted to nurturing the spiritual in everyday life. She leads workshops on spiritual practices at the Sophia Institute and other venues in the U.S. and internationally. Her mind/body/spirit articles, essays and stories appear in publications around the globe and were broadcast by BBC World Services Radio. She has spent over fifteen years learning meditation, working with dreams and doing spiritual practices. Visit her online at

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