It has become an end-of-year tradition at HWS: The Venerable Tenzin Yignyen, instructor of Asian languages and cultures, offers a sand mandala ceremony to conclude his “Tibetan Mandala Painting Course.”
A custom for students during finals week at HWS, the ceremony is also in keeping with traditional Buddhist ceremonial rites. The sand mandala, created by Yignyen and his students, which was on display in the atrium of the Warren Hunting Smith Library this semester, was destroyed and offered to the waters of Seneca Lake on Dec. 17.
The mandala traditionally is used as a meditation tool. Every color, step and design used to create it holds a deep spiritual meaning explored in Yignyen’s course and offered to the Colleges and the public to observe.
“As much as we educate our brain to become smart to enhance the material development, it is equally or even more important to educate our heart to develop inner values such as loving kindness, self discipline and patience to produce a good happy humanity,” Yignyen says. “So mandala classes teach these core human values for the students as well.”
During the ceremony, Yingnyen sweeps up the intricate sand creation that was constructed throughout the semester, scoops the grains into a pot and pours them into Seneca Lake. All in attendance walk across the Hobart Quad and then down the hill to the lake. These rites are performed in recognition of life’s impermanence and the Tibetan belief that man-made creations are insignificant.
In addition to being an instructor of Asian languages and cultures, Yignyen is also a high-ranking monk in the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery. He has been a member of the HWS faculty since 1998. In addition to teaching the mandala course, Yignyen is an instructor in mediation, Tibetan Buddhism and art, as well as Asian studies.
Yignyen says students who take the mandala course learn much more than Buddhist history, art, and philosophy. In his classes, he also shares the principles for living a balanced, peaceful, compassionate and loving life.