A group of 20 Tibetan monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery began construction of a Buddhist sand mandala in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2002 noon as a room full of people, including senior officials of the State Department, Representative of the Office of Tibet in New York, the Smithsonian Institution, the International Campaign for Tibet, etc. watched in apt silence. The mandala of Akshobya (Mitrugpa in Tibetan) is being constructed at the expressed desire of the Dalai Lama to be part of the healing process in the United States after the September 11 tragedy.
Prior to the ritual ceremony, remarks were made by Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, Mr. Ngawang Phelgye of the Office of Tibet in New York, Vidya Daheja, acting director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and Geshe Lobsang Tenzin, director of the Loseling Institute in Atlanta. Secretary Small thanked the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people for this “selfless act of kindness” and for the “sign of solidarity by decent people.” Daheja echoed the feelings when she expressed gratitude to the Dalai Lama for “this gift of healing”. Assistant Secretary Kelly also thanked the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people for their understanding and appreciated the “journey of healing” which began in Tibet and came to the United States via India.
Phelgye said soon after the tragedy the Dalai Lama asked the Tibetan people to do whatever possible to assist in the healing process. The Drepung Loseling monks began this process in New York exactly three months after the tragedy and moved to Washington, D.C. exactly after four months after the September 11 tragedy. Geshe Lobsang Tenzin explained how this experience has been a learning process for the monks and to know that the American people appreciated this gesture.
Mitrugpa is one of the five Transcendental Buddhas, which include Nampar Nangze (Vairocana), Rinchen Jungney (Ratnasambhava), Opame (Amitaba), and Dhonyo Drupa (Amogasiddhi). Unlike the historical Buddha, these five Buddhas never existed in an earthly form. They are rather objects of meditation and symbolize specific qualities, each embodying a particular insight necessary for enlightenment. Mitrugpa or the Unshakeable One is said to transform hate into ultimate-reality-perfection insight and is believed to be able to transcend negativity.
“For centuries Tibetans have relied upon their sacred art to supplement meditation and prayers as an effective means of healing and protection in times of disaster, natural or otherwise,” said Daheja. “Given today’s tumultuous times, the program is very appropriate and should be received enthusiastically by our visitors,” she added.
The opening prayers included consecration of the mandala site and the performance of the Shanag Garcham (the Black Hat dance) by two monks as part of the process to eliminate all negativity.
The Smithsonian Institution is broadcasting live the process of constructing this 7 foot by 7 foot mandala on its website www.asia.si.edu. In 1998 the Sackler Gallery hosted a nine-day mandala construction event by Tibetan monks from the same Drepung Loseling Monastery, which attracted over 20,000 visitors. That event was broadcast live by the Washington Post on its website.
The monks will be working daily on the mandala at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm with ritual prayers each day in the beginning and at the close of the day. The mandala will be dismantled and the residual sand will be immersed in the local Potomac River. On January 25, 2002, the monks will be staging an event, Sacred Music Sacred Dance for World Healing at the Lincoln Theater in Washington, D.C. (see related item below for detail). The Washington, D.C. program has been coordinated by the Smithsonian Institution with the Conservancy of Tibetan Art and Culture.