One of the richest visual objects in Tibetan Buddhism is the mandala.
A mandala is a symbolic picture of the universe. It can be a painting on a wall or scroll, created in colored sands on a table, or visualization in the mind of a very skilled adept.
The mandala represents an imaginary palace that is contemplated during meditation. Each object in the palace has significance, representing an aspect of wisdom or reminding the meditator of a guiding principle. The mandala’s purpose is to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones and to assist with healing.
Once the mandala is complete the monks ask for the deities’ healing blessings during a ceremony. During this ceremony the mandala is destroyed, serving as a reminder of the impermanence of life.
The colored sand from the destroyed mandala is swept up into an urn and dispersed into flowing water – a way of extending the healing powers to the whole world. It is seen as a gift to the mother earth to re-energize the environment and universe.
Tibetan monks create sand Mandela’s to demonstrate the impermanence of life. These intricate works of art take days or weeks to complete, and are then ceremonially destroyed to signify the cycle of life.