By Tessa Raebeck; Michael Heller photo
In 1961, two years after Communist China invaded Tibet, 8-year-old Tenzin Yignyen and his parents fled their homeland for India, where they found refuge with other exiled Tibetans in Dharamsala.
Their possessions were gone, and their life uprooted, but rather than giving into hatred toward the Chinese and distrusting the world, the Yignyens—like many other Tibetan families—turned to compassion.
“War is the worst, and it cannot solve any problems; Love and kindness is the fundamental source of our happiness,” Lama Tenzin, now an ordained Buddhist monk, told students in a presentation at the Ross School Friday morning.
Lama Tenzin, who was ordained by the Dalai Lama and earned the highest degree from the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, spent four days at the school last week meditating and meeting with parents, students and staff. His visit culminated in the creation of a mandala, a cosmic diagram representative of the universe, and in this case, a celestial mansion for Tara, the female deity of clarity.
An ancient art form originated in 6th century B.C India, mandalas can be used as spiritual teaching tools to develop virtuous intentions and paths. Lama Tenzin brought white marble dust from India and dyed it into various shades of green, yellow, orange, red and blue. Using a long metal funnel called a chakpu, Lama Tenzin meticulously applied the colored sand to an outlined design, working his way from the center outward. Each line is precise, with every inch of the mandala taking minutes to construct.
By Thursday afternoon, Lama Tenzin had constructed a full mandala, a large circular design about 5 feet in diameter.
Sand mandalas are created in the spirit of impermanence and non-attachment; the monks spend hours creating beautiful designs and when they are finished, they destroy them. The Tara mandala was dismantled in a ceremony Friday morning, when Lama Tenzin chanted, blessed the sand and made the first “cuts” through the mandala, dispersing the sand. The children then used sponge-like brushes to push the sand from the mandala’s edge to the center, blending the distinct, orderly blocks of color into a chaotic rainbow.
“When I cut the mandala,” Lama Tenzin explained, “you should envision all the obstacles in the whole world—particularly for your school—have been removed.”
The sand, blessed by the monk, is then offered to a body of water “for the benefit of marine life, the environment and all sentient beings,” according to Lama Tenzin. Following the dismantling, students, parents and staff members accompanied Lama Tenzin to Long Beach in Noyac to disperse the blessed sand into the bay.
“He makes mandalas to represent that nothing can last forever,” said Francesca, a fourth grade student at Ross, of Lama Tenzin.
“He’s very respectful and he’s a very nice person,” her classmate Gabe added.
Lama Tenzin uses the Tara mandala as a tool to educate the children on overcoming obstacles. The intention, he said, is “to let them know they are spending many, many years to become a smart person…. Smart cannot make them happy.”
“Most important to make them happy is to educate your heart,” he said of the children. “To remind them that [a] good heart is extremely important, compassion is extremely important.”
“We don’t need breakfast, we don’t need cell phones…. Our future generation should be the happier people, as well as make the world a better place to live,” he added.
Lama Tenzin outlined life’s obstacles and the intentions that can overcome them. Doubt and suspicion is overcome with trust, ignorance with wisdom, and wrong views and expectations with realistic views and common sense.
“He teaches us about peace and teaches us to not be greedy and be happy with what we have,” said student Dorothea.
“I think it’s good to have him at the school because he told us we shouldn’t be paying so much attention to what we want,” her classmate, Evvy added. “We should be really thankful for what we have instead of wanting more things…. It’s very important to just learn new things.”
“Surrounded by loving people, you are more happy,” he said, citing the importance of moral ethics. “Educating the heart is extremely important for individual happiness and world peace—how to see the wider perspective, not the narrow point.”
Lama Tenzin said one could be a billionaire with no financial worries and still be miserable if one’s heart did not have compassion.
“Good people with big hearts should live long on this planet,” he said. “Bad people… they die soon.”
“Whenever a problem comes, you should [look at the] wider perspective, different angles,” he added. “You reduce suffering that comes from that problem cause you look from every direction. Mandala is [the] guide map to reach [a high] level of happiness.”
“He’s a good inspiration and role model,” Ross student Elyse said of the monk Thursday. “He teaches good things and you can look up to him.”
“He teaches us about important things like patience, wisdom, love, and compassion,” her friend, Maya, added. “He also taught us that the best way to take care of mistakes is not to make them.”
“I really love you and I really see very many beautiful students,” Lama Tenzin told the group gathered for the dismantling ceremony Friday morning. “You have a bright future and you will make this world a better place to live. The essence of this message is: if you can, help others.”
“If you hurt all the time other people—you lost all your friends and good people, so you feel very lonely on this planet,” he continued. “You should love everyone, but don’t be too attached. Enjoy, love each other, but don’t expect too much from that person or that object.”
Holding up his index finger and thumb about an inch apart, he said, “Human life is very short.”
“We don’t have time for stress, worry,” he said, shrinking down under his hands. “Why you do that? Enjoy each and every moment—that is very important, okay?”
At Long Beach Friday, Lama Tenzin chanted and blessed the sand, reconnecting it to its home in nature. Once a detailed painting, the colored sand was blended together in a vase, with the individual shades lost.
After his prayer, the exiled Tibetan brought the sand to the water’s edge, chanting as he dispersed clumps into the water and the gray-blue mounds were swept away by the waves.
“No single part of the world is independent, everybody is for each other,” Lama Tenzin said. “Whoever you are, if you have love and compassion, that will make you beautiful forever.”