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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Impermanence of Life

In the mid 1990's I witnessed the creation and dismantling of a Sand Mandala by visiting Tibetan monks. The college hosted the event which lasted for days and included a visit by a distinguished lama. During the celebration I also attended a traditional Tibetan dance presentation at our theater. I had never witnessed such a colorful and unusual event in my life.

Unlike others who visited and quickly left the gallery where the monks gathered to create the Mandala also known as sand painting, I felt drawn not only to the process of constructing the Mandala but to the happy monks who spent days working on their creation. They walked the campus in groups, dressed in their brick colored robes that had a touch of yellow and with their heads shaved.

I noticed their laughter and smiles, their energy and peace. I watched them from afar and dozens of questions circled my mind. As a child, I always asked questions and bothered my parents, so it is only fitting that I should carry that trait into adulthood. I yearned to talk to the monks, interview them and understand their ways and their beliefs. And so, I often visited the gallery where they spent days constructing the large mandala. At first I quietly watched and observed as they used simple tools with great precision. Never in a hurry and always relaxed, they created colorful lines, intricate patterns, doorways and images.

On one of my many visits I approached one of the monks who spoke a little English and I began to ask him questions. He answered every question with a smile and at times ended with a giggle. Communicating was difficult at times, so we used our hands and helped each other with the words. After a few exchanges, I felt comfortable enough to ask him more meaningful questions about his faith, beliefs and practices. Clearly, my questions delighted him and he eagerly struggled to share what he could with me.

But when I asked him to describe meditation and how it made him feel, he hesitated. He pointed to his arm and said meditation was like feeling his blood rushing through his veins in his entire body. He then smiled and opened his eyes as wide as he could. His face glowed as he raised his hands. He then explained in his "not so good English" that what I asked could not be fully described in words and that it had to be experienced to truly understand.

Every now and then I remember the happy monk whose real name I have forgotten but whose face I will always see and whose words I will always remember. No matter how much I read or listen to others tell stories, I realize that only through experience can I truly understand certain things.

For days I watched them create and in an instance I saw them demolish. They rejoiced but I watched in agony and pain, questioning how such beauty could be destroyed. However, the years that have passed since my encounter with the monks have helped me better understand the significance and the symbolism of that event...the impermanence of life.


  1. Fearless, thank you for this reminder


  2. I find your story fascinating and like yourself, I would be asking all types of questions.
    It is nice of you to share it. It is almost like being there myself.
    Have a great day!

  3. I am not surprised that you were an inquisitive child who grew up to be a thinking adult!

    The mandala creation is a wonderful example of the impermanence of life: all that effort for something that is so temporary. It is a good reminder, a way to appreciate what the inevitable.

  4. ...To be able to walk in another man's moccasains...

  5. Two powerful insights here. The first one that I know so well is....hmm....the path I chose in Life. I consciously chose an experiential Life when I was 27 years old. I can still remember the moment. I decided that I did not want to learn about Life solely through books and gurus/teachers, etc. I wanted a firsthand experience of Life, an intimate relationship. So that Life was something I knew in my veins, in my blood. Living was something I "lived" and not just a concept for me. My life at times has probably been "messier" than many, but I know who I am and I am deeply in love with Life everyday. No matter what is happening. That love is now who I am. My word, you inspire me. Thank you for bringing that out of me just now.

    I know how that monk feels. Isn't it beautiful. I am so touched that you patiently waited and finally got to talk with him. That is so you. :)

    The other insight I saw here was impermanence of Life. We can use that awareness to more fully live, every single day, every single moment. Bless you for reminding us of this truth. Hugs, Robin

  6. I recently watched two documentaries on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which really underscored the concept of impermanence and therefore not forming attachments - I just didn't realise this concept extended to past death. It was quite an eye-opener. I'm picking the book up from the library tomorrow :)

  7. Thank you for the story. I especially loved the comment of the monk on mediation and the feeling of blood rushing through the veins.
    Life, because it is impermanent and fragile, is a thing of beauty to be cherished each day.

  8. Events and happenings that occur "by chance" (not sure that's the appropriate word) has no "significance" (not sure that's the appropriate word too) - according to my limited understanding of Buddhism. And "LIFE" and all that within it are of these events. Although, that's not to say "LIFE" is not to be cherished. But that, by itself, shed some, but not enough, light into my "quest" for the meaning of "LIFE".

    Thanks for the reminder.


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