ITHACA, N.Y. –– Tibetan monks from the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca will work 40 hours over the next five days to create an intricate sand mandala. And at the end of all that work, it will be washed away.

“Sand mandalas are intricate works of art where millions of grains of brightly colored sand are carefully arranged to represent the sacred home of a particular deity,” said Barnaby Knoll, house assistant at Alice Cook House. 

The mandala is being crafted in the dining area of the Alice Cook House at Cornell University. It is a collaboration between Alice Cook House, Ithaca’s Namgyal Monastery, Cornell Dining, the West Campus House System and the Class of 1966’s Thriving Red Fund, which supports mental health and wellness initiatives on campus.

Watch a video as they begin work Wednesday:

According to the Namgyal Monastery, this particular mandala will be representative of the deity Avalokiteshevara, or Chenrezig as he is known in Tibetan. He is a Buddhist deity who personifies the ideal of compassion and is usually shown as having multiple sets of arms.

“The extra arms symbolize his ability to help many beings simultaneously,” said Ngawang Dhondup, administrator at the Namgyal Monastery.

When it’s completed, the mandala will be four square feet. The monks will destroy the mandala by sweeping it up and walking it to the Fall Creek Gorge on Sunday, Oct. 20. According to Knoll, “the mandala is destroyed to show the impermanence of life: that all sufferings, objects, and states are moving and temporary.”

One of those states is stress –– something both college students and community members can empathize with.

“Students are really stressed,” Knoll said. “And everyone. I think that’s why we opened it up to the public as well.”

(Photo by Anna Lamb/The Ithaca Voice)

The stresses, according to Knoll, “they flow and they become something else. I think that’s part of the sand mandala. Once it goes back into the water, and it goes back into the earth, it becomes something else. It’s this constantly evolving part of life,” he said. 

The Ithaca monastery is a small part of the larger Namgyal Monastery in Dharamshala, India –– a location that was established following the loss of Tibetan independence. 

• Related: Expansion at Namgyal Monastery: Library and museum will be treasury of Dalai Lama works in Ithaca

The two monks working on the mandala at Cornell, Tenzin Gechey and Ven Lobsang Choephel, are both Tibetan refugees who fled to Dharamshala to become monks as children. They are now part of a three-year program in Ithaca, after which they will return to India to continue Buddhist study. The monastery is the only one of its kind that exists outside of Tibet and India. 

“Just to glimpse the Mandala, however, will create a positive impression on the mind-stream of the observer, who for a moment is in touch with the profound potential for perfect Enlightenment, which exists within the mind of all beings,” Ngawang Dhondup said. 

The mandala creation will be open to the public in the dining hall of Alice Cook House, on Cornell’s campus, located at 107 Alice Cook House, Ithaca, at the following times and dates:

  • From 11 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Oct. 15 to Oct. 18
  • From 2 to 5 p.m. Oct. 19
  • From 2 to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 20 

In addition, Cook Dining is partnering with local Tibetan chefs to create 13 Tibetan dishes to be served in celebration of the mandala. That will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17 in the dining room of Alice Cook House. It is an all-you-can-eat buffet-style dinner. 

Adult Price: $16.45 (Tax Included). Children 7-12 price: $8.25 (tax included).

Tenzin Gechey and Ven Lobsang Choephel work on the sand mandala Wednesday. (Photo by Anna Lamb/The Ithaca Voice)

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com