Rituals of Impermanence and Impermanent Rituals (2)

There are rituals of impermanence – the Sand Mandala, the practice of burning resolutions made during a New Year’s service, and more – and there are impermanent rituals – rituals that do not last forever, rituals that come to an end. Both help us to let go of attachment…but not let go of the act! And by letting go of attachment (and not the act), we experience the act, the ritual, without residue.

Seeing the impermanence of our rituals is essential to spiritual liberation. The ceremonies we come to love and cherish, the temples and spaces we call home, the people we practice with, all impermanent rituals, all coming and going. And when they go, what is it…that frees, that sings awakening? The feelings of loss, the tears at things coming apart, the sadness, the attachment even, all are part of the practice of impermanent rituals. It’s not about not feeling. But feeling deeply and without attachment. So the process unfolds, and we unfold as part of the process, and there is no getting stuck.

Zen Master So Sahn wrote in section 74 of the Mirror of Zen:

If in the hour of your death you make even the slightest distinction between the enlightened and unenlightened, holy or unholy people, you will be inexorably pulled into your next rebirth through the womb of a donkey or a horse, or stuffed into an iron furnace raging in hell, or become an ant or a mosquito.1

When we get attached to ritual – whether spiritual or mundane – we make distinctions. We carve the world into rituals and non-rituals, into spiritual and non-spiritual. And with attachment to ritual follows movements of mind and feeling that pull us through the “womb of a donkey or a horse.” If we don’t practice the impermanence of rituals now, in this very moment, then in the moment of our passing we will see the end as final and as a loss…and we may just find ourselves reborn as an “ant or a mosquito.”

But if we practice the impermanence of rituals now, if we learn to let go and be completely free by, paradoxically, being completely with each and every thing as it unfolds, then there is no distinction between holy and unholy, no distinction between spiritual and mundane.

The red mountain sings awakening.

The broken cup shouts wake up.

From the crack in a wall

Runs icy water.

1. Excerpt From: Boep Joeng. “The Mirror of Zen.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-mirror-of-zen/id1161759809?mt=11

Rituals of Impermanence and Impermanent Rituals (1)

Where does the Sand Mandala live? Its creation, its compassion, its vibrant energy, its dissolution, its impermanence: where is it and what is it?

The Sand Mandala from the previous post, it is there and it is not there. What is created and destroyed, that is the vehicle. But the practice and the teachings of the Sand Mandala, where do they live? Where does their power to cut away at our delusions, greed, and anger live? Not separate from the vehicle, but not identical with it.

It is easy to miss the teaching. I did. Yesterday I was working with a Vietnamese Buddhist monk here in the Springs. I was helping him take down a temple bell. He is slowly taking down a structure that he created 8 years ago. As I was leaving, he said, “Here, just like the Mandala, the dissolution of things. We created it; now, we destroy it. And maybe we will create it again.”

Although it is not a colorful and intricately designed Mandala of Compassion, the structure is the Mandala. How? It is a ritual of impermanence, the embodiment of compounded things coming apart.

The Sand Mandala that the Tibetan monks created and their weeklong process of creation were amazingly beautiful and powerful as a teaching, spiritual practice, cultural practice, and work of art. But if we leave that teaching at the creek where the last remnants of sand washed away, then we missed it.

If we see the Mandala in the falling leaves, the dying plants, the coming and going of all things, then we catch a glimpse of that vast realm of compassion.

May we all catch that glimpse! May we all enter that gate of compassion! May we see the Mandala in the coming and going of the ten thousand things!



A Compassion Mandala and the Magic of Everyday Mundane Acts

This week in Colorado Springs, a local Buddhist group, the BodhiMind Center, coordinated with a group of touring Tibetan Monks from the Ngari Institute to create a week of Tibetan Buddhist ritual and practice centered around the creation of a Sand Mandala. All proceeds from the week went to support the Ngari Institute – and if you are reading this and feel compelled to donate, please Click Here for more information.

The Compassion Mandala Tour spread a message of love and kindness through the ritual creation and destruction of a Sand Mandala. But how? Through the mystery of how art, ritual, and practice can fuse into something beyond words, but also through the completely ordinary too, right here in the everyday mundane acts of sentient beings.

Two monks worked on the Mandala throughout. By the end of the first full day, the Mandala began to take shape. All throughout the day, visitors gathered around the Sand Mandala, from guests to the Fine Arts Center to classes of elementary school children. The Monks worked with single pointed concentration while people stood over their shoulders or watched from video screens set up in the hallway. At one time a young girl was nestled up next to a monk while he continued to work on the Mandala. When the monks took a break, they would talk with others around them, share tea, and walk up and down the hallway smiling, stretching, and relaxing. Surely in all this was love and kindness.

By the following day, hours into their practice, the two monks continued with the same single pointed concentration. Sitting on mats and cushions, slowly tapping out sand in intricate patterns and designs, they continued their work of compassion through their art and practice, through perseverance, through vital energy dedicated to a single task of love and kindness. Sitting alongside and watching in meditative inquiry, how could one not be moved by their practice and generosity? It filled the room and the city, as evidenced by the number of people who came to just take it in.

After it was completed, the Mandala was raised on a platform and surrounded by candles, Buddha statues, and flowers. Although the monks were done with their part of the creation, the effects continued to grow and spread. Visitors came to see the finished Mandala. Students around town were making plans to attend the Dissolution Ceremony. Pictures were shared on social media. The Compassion Mandala continued to spread far and wide.

The dissolution ceremony brought people from all over the town. Some just happened to be there because they were visiting the Fine Arts Center that day. Many arrived for the ceremony itself. After chanting, prayers, and music, the monks began to sweep the sand into a pile in the center of the platform. The Sand Mandala was no more. Small scoops of sand were handed out in little bags. The rest was placed in a jar along with flowers and brought down to Monument Creek where it was spread among the ten thousand elements.

So in all of this, where was the love and kindness? The compassion? Where was the Sand Mandala?

It was in the air, the ritual, the practice. It was radiating beyond anything that can be expressed with words. It was felt deeply without knowing how it was felt. It was in the air, water, earth, and fire and in the combinations of these elements. But it was in all of these ritual and spiritual and magical things because it was in the small everyday acts of love and kindness and compassion. It was in the small child sitting next to the monk watching him tap sand onto a platform. It was in the monks’ long hours of sitting and meditation. It was people stepping aside so others could see the Mandala. It was in the hugs and smiles and hellos of old friends seeing each other again there next to the Mandala. It was in the planning, the hours of preparation, the volunteer meals, the tea being offered, and all the other ten thousand acts of kindness to make the events run smoothly.

The magic of compassion arises from the everyday mundane acts, and the everyday mundane acts are what make the magic of compassion alive and beyond words. May you find compassion, love, and kindness in your everyday life! May you be well, at ease, and happy!

With a deep bow of gratitude from Colorado Springs…