Tibetan monastic traditions include the making and the ritual destruction of sand mandalas as an integral part of their spiritual practice.
Elaborate mandalas are made of multicolored sand and destroyed upon completion. The completion takes time, concentration and diligence and, as such, symbolized the continuous struggle on the wheel of samsara.
Once completed, mandalas are destroyed in highly orchestrated ceremonies. The destruction epitomizes Buddhist teachings of the transitory nature of all phenomena and illustrates not only the transience of all material things, but also the importance of detachment on the way to Enlightenment.
Buddhism teaches that human suffering stems from our inability to detach ourselves from all things - good or bad and clinging to this narrative as if it were something that defined our existence. But detachment requires discipline and constant self-reflection and life gives us enough opportunities to test our spiritual progress.
In a monastic setting the monks might not be as exposed to the currents of daily life, but they, like any other human being, are not free from attachments and suffering.
The monk who creates the mandala sees his progress as his artwork emerges in bright colors in front of him. The ritual of creation and destruction does not allow any attachment, because the work, as soon as it is created and viewed, is destroyed. And not a grain of sand remains to contemplate upon.
The destruction of sand mandalas follow a special protocol. The image is dismantled in a particular order and the sand is collected in a jar that normally is wrapped in silk and transported to a river or other body with flowing water. The sand is then released back into the nature this completing its cycle of existence. This very act not only symbolizes the transience and impermanence of the world, but also acts as upāya (or expedient means) for the practitioner to better comprehend the Buddhist teachings.
Psychologically, detachment but not denial, is the means by which we can learn to deal with loss and suffering and, eventually, achieve the serenity that characterizes the profoundly enlightened minds.
by Dominique Allmon ©2013
image source here