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Friday 2 September 2022 11:51am

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Tibetan monk Geshe Lobsang Dhonyoe started learning how to construct sand mandalas more than 15 years ago.

A Tibetan monk and sand mandala master has been carefully constructing a sand mandala in the University of Otago's Central Library. With help from translator Losang Dawa, he answered questions from Internal Communications Adviser Koren Allpress about the process.

Geshe Lobsang Dhonyoe has spent years memorising intricate mandala patterns.

In fact, the Buddhist monk started his training in drawing and constructing the fine sand depictions more than 15 years ago, at Sera Monastery in South India.

He has memorised multiple root texts that instruct monks in the measurements of each part of the mandala's pattern.

“I draw from my memory because I have memorised the root text which comes in verse form pertaining to the measurement.”

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Some of the brightly-coloured sands Geshe Dhonyoe is working with.

The Dunedin monk said he learned the root texts from Lama Thubten Rinpoche, who was once a resident teacher at the city's Dhargyey Buddhist Centre.

“Before Lama Thubten moved to Dunedin, he lived in India and was an expert in this art of mandala construction and measurement, and stupa, which is a kind of Buddhist monument.”

Geshe Dhonyoe says monks at the Sera Monastery that are training to make sand mandalas are given a small bowl from which they draw the grid for the pattern.

They then spend time learning how to pour the coloured sand on the grid to make as perfect representation of the mandala as possible.

“The training of all sand mandala starts with pouring raw grains on different parts of the mandala. Of sand mandalas, the hardest part is getting the grid precise,” he says.

Once he completed his training, Geshe Dhonyoe travelled the world making sand mandalas in European countries such as Germany and France, as well as Taiwan, the United States of America and Australia.

“As I make sand mandalas in different parts of the world, people make donations, contributions. All donations are taken back to the monastery to help poor Buddhist monks, young monks in poor health, for housing and to improve the quality of their food.”

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Geshe Dhonyoe says the overall structure of mandala patterns remains the same, the differences lie in the details.

He has not kept a record of how many mandalas he has made in total, but the one he is working on at the library is the seventh he has made in New Zealand.

Geshe Dhonyoe says he chose the manjushri mandala for the library as its deity represents wisdom, which was fitting for an institution such as the University where students come to learn, develop, and create knowledge.

He hoped it would bring students success.

In Tibetan tantric Buddhism there are different classes of tantra.

“Lower class mandala are simpler and easier to do, therefore I like them more,” Geshe Dhonyoe says.

“However, the mandala of all deities of the higher tantra are quite complex, and therefore are a richer visual experience.”

The overall grid structure of many types of mandala is the same, but the difference lies in particular details, he says.

Geshe Dhonyoe will have the sand mandala completed by Monday, 12 September.

o Geshe Lobsang Dhonyoe will work Monday to Sunday, from 10am –12 noon, then 2pm – 4pm to construct the mandala.
o Geshe Dhonyoe will be giving a talk titled 'The architecture of enlightenment: The creation and destruction of a sand mandala' on Monday, 5 September from 3.30pm in Seminar Room 6, Central Library.
o A closing ceremony will take place at 10am on Monday 12 September.
o The public is invited to join in for 15 minutes of mantra chanting at the start of each day before work continues on the mandala construction.

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