Inside the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in midtown Sacramento, monks Geshe Gendun Gyatso and Venerable Dhondup Tsering are dressed in robes of deep red, yellow and orange. They hold a brief ceremony to evoke healing energy.
Then they get to work on the mandala.
Hunched over a large circle, about four feet in diameter, they take metal cones and fill them with sand. Not your standard beach sand. Colored sand: red, blue, orange, green.
They tap the sand-filled cones….artfully dispersing the vivid colors in a sharply defined elaborate pattern. If you stand a few feet back, you wouldn’t know it was made of sand.
Creating this mandala will take about three days.
"Yes, it’s very hard work."
Monk Geshe Gendun Gyatso says it takes a steady hand and a lot of focus.
"Once you mess it’s kind of very hard to redo so therefore a lot of concentration and a lot of patience and everyday at the end of the day (your) back’s kind of killing and hand muscles are pretty tired."
Sand mandalas used to be kept behind closed doors. For two thousand years, only Tibetan monks could view them. But in 1988, the Dalai Lama allowed the first one to be crafted at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. He wanted to open the Buddhist culture to the world.
Gendun says the mandala elicits different reactions.
"Some people just see it as art, some people…Americans typically go ‘wow’…that kind of thing. So a mixture of feelings and hopefully this will heal so many people."
Gendun says by viewing the mandala we are letting go of our self-centered perspective…opening up to others…and finding happiness.
Trinity Cathedral Dean Brian Baker says he jumped at the chance to host the monks at his church.
"It was important for me that we model hospitality toward other religions at this time when there’s so much division in the world that we wanted to model a different way which was different religions coming together and being hospitable to one another."
Baker says he’s hopeful his congregation will agree: creating the mandala at Trinity is a rare opportunity for mutual spirituality.
"It’s an opportunity for us to explore and experience the more contemplative side of our own tradition and it’s enriching for all of us."
About a dozen people are quietly watching as the mandala is created….including Susan Montoya. She sits transfixed by the sight of the monks methodically pouring the sand. She says it’s a prescription for healing…and on this day, that’s exactly what she needs.
"Today is my brother’s birthday. He was killed about a year ago. So I’m here to celebrate and the medicine mandala is a way of healing."
The mandala is not meant to last. When the monks finish their creation they dismantle it. It’s called a dissolution ceremony…meant to show that all things inevitably change. The mandala will be on display through Sunday.