A decade of harmony: Buddhist monk completes Green Tara Sand Mandala

2023 marks Tibetan monk Geshe Sangpo’s tenth year visiting Elon University to construct and destroy a symbolic motif in the Numen Lumen Pavilion.

Between Wednesday, Sept. 6 and Friday, Sept. 8, a very special ceremony took place inside the walls of Elon’s Numen Lumen Pavilion. Geshe Sangpo, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, visited Elon University to construct a Green Tara Sand Mandala, a delicate artwork that symbolizes healing and peace.

Tibetan Buddhist monk Geshe Sangpo created a sand mandala, a sacred form of art, in the Sacred Space on the campus of Elon University from September 6-8, 2023.

The three-day event was the effort of a collaboration between Elon’s Truitt Center for Religious & Spiritual Life and the Kadampa Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. Elon has partnered with the Kadampa Center for the last ten years to conduct this special ceremony. Apart from a pandemic-related pause in 2020, the event has successfully taken place every year since 2013.

University Chaplain and Dean of Multifaith Engagement Rev. Kirstin Boswell called the ceremony an “annual gift” to students, faculty and staff.

“It is wonderful to see how many people attend the opening and closing ceremonies and come to silently watch Geshe Sangpo’s work throughout the week. Geshe always enriches us with the painstakingly beautiful creation and destruction of the mandala, but also with his great wisdom shared over meals and conversation during his three days here every [year],” Boswell said.

The opening ceremony took place on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 10 a.m. During this ceremony, Geshe Sangpo chanted and infused the creation of the sand mandala with his intentions for passion, harmony, peace and health. After this, visitors were encouraged to stop by the Numen Lumen Pavilion at any time to view the sand mandala construction. Attendees, which included students, faculty and other members of the Elon community, were filled with a profound sense of awe and fascination as they engaged with the Buddhist religion through this special event.

Geshe Sangpo using a chak-pur to construct the sand mandala.

Geshe Sangpo used a cone-shaped metal funnel called a chak-pur to direct the sand, which was very small, crushed marble, to create the shape and design of the mandala. The mandala is a symbolic representation of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. The geometric patterns and colors are believed to represent a map to transform the ordinary human mind into an enlightened mind. The mandala is also believed to affect purification and healing.

This ceremony was designed to call Green Tara into the space. She is an emanation of compassion in Tibetan Buddhism. In artistic representations, Green Tara is usually depicted seated on a lotus throne with her right leg hanging down and carrying a closed blue lotus.

“This ceremony always brings blessings and understanding about Buddhism,” said Hillary Zanken, interim assistant dean of Multifaith Engagement. “It is a very rare thing to have a monk that can construct this kind of sand mandala. Only a small number of people are qualified to create one. It is really a privilege and honor to have him here and have our community to be able to participate in.”

During the closing ceremony, which took place Friday, Sept. 8 at 3 p.m., Geshe Sangpo intentionally destroyed the mandala, which symbolized impermanence. Those who attended the closing ceremony had the opportunity to leave with some of the blessed sand used to construct the mandala.

The finished sand mandala after three days of work.

Geshe Sangpo, born in 1972 in Kham Karze, eastern Tibet, embarked on a remarkable journey at the age of 12 when he left his hometown, crossing the formidable Himalayas. His religious achievements include obtaining full ordination vows and the remarkable distinction of becoming one of the youngest individuals to attain a Geshe degree, a process that typically spans decades. He is now based at the Kadampa Center, where he teaches several classes.

The Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life works to support and engage the Elon community with the wisdom of the world’s religious, spiritual and ethical traditions. That work is both encouraging students to deepen their own spiritual identities and growth as well as facilitating engagement across different traditions through multifaith work.

The Truitt Center is currently preparing for the observance of the upcoming Jewish High Holidays later this month, and a comprehensive list of all other scheduled events and ways to be involved can be found on their website.