I worked at the University of Connecticut for most of my career. It's a beautiful campus in a quiet corner of eastern Connecticut. I liked it. I worked in the computer center in the basement of the math science building. It seemed fair. We were the geekiest of the geeks in the basest of the basements.
A quiet place in a quiet building in a quiet campus.
I availed myself of the many, many amenities of the place. An art museum. Summer cook outs. Library. Book store. Natural history museum. Ice cream parlour. Theater. Fitness center where I would go for step aerobics, yoga, and weight lifting with my best bud, Joanne. I learned figure skating from a Canadian Olympic star. And I received a master’s degree in anthropology. What's not to like? Culture, junk food, exercise, and knowledge all in one career.
Some of us would take walks around campus, rain or shine, summer or winter, every lunch hour. We'd talk philosophy, of course. Or about our kids.
It was grand.
One summer. There was a program at the art gallery. A group of Buddhist monks were going to create a sand mandala right there in the rotunda of the art gallery. It would be open to the public. Free, of course, as was the art gallery itself.
We could come and watch as the saffron robed monks meticulously drizzled colored sand on a table in an elaborate design of worship.
I went over several times on my lunch hour to watch.
I watched three or four smiling Dalai Lama look alikes carefully weighing out sand into little metal tubes which were tapered at the ends into little blunt spouts. They were kinda like long, skinny funnels.
They held the spouts over the designs of the mandala and gently tapped them. A small, steady trail of sand grains traced a pattern on the emerging sand prayer.
Tap, tap, tap. A decoration. Tap, tap. A highlight. Tap. A small detail in a common design. Day in. Day out. They tapped out their pretty picture. Their pretty prayer.
I watched over several days as the image emerged. A Buddha sitting in a temple surrounded by walls and windows, gods and demons, lotuses and starbursts.
I took pictures. I watched. I wondered.
Day by day the icon emerged. Larger and larger. Clearer and clearer. What I saw was a flat image existing on a table. But what I imagined was a three dimensional object living in the air, a mandala come alive.
What if the sand on the table were to rise up? What if it were to go from flat table to vibrant air and become a living temple floating there in 3D? A thin wisp of sand tracing the god Buddha sitting on his lotus blossom amidst his temple? Surrounded by walls of adamant, trees, vines, and symbols of worship? All in a kind of hologram? Cast in stone, yet stone that lives? Lives and breathes and floats within the world of worship it contains and which contains it?
And further and beyond. Worshipers abound. Bowing. Standing. Living. Loving. All around the whirl of worship in the temple of the air.
The god within raises his hand and winks with his third eye. And it all collapses back onto the table with the humble monks in saffron robes tapping out their simple prayers of colored sand. Tap, tap, tap. Another prayer. Another worship. Another sign of adulation.
Then the sand swirls again and comes together into domes with pointed peaks. And fluted pillars supporting the domes above palisades and pavilions, carpeted chambers looking out through shuttered windows breathing in the Himalayan air. And arches supporting roofs over fountains and gardens bursting with pools of lotus and fields of crocus. Steps waft down infinite stairs to living water. The faithful walk up and down, up and down, bringing prayers and drinking in salvation.
A sand castle that is alive.
And the god within raises his fist to his temple. And brings it down before him, turning it as he does. He opens his palm. And the world ends.
There, another lotus appears. And grows. And opens. And in its pedals sits another.
She opens her third eye and the world is reborn.
At the end of the week the monks dragged a spoon through the mandala and swept all of the sand into a clay colored pile in the middle of the table.
The prayer is over. Time for the amen.