Hundreds attend closing sand mandala ceremony in Steamboat |

Hundreds attend closing sand mandala ceremony in Steamboat

Buddhist monks will perform a healing ceremony at noon today

A member of the Drepung Loseling monks begins the transformation of the compassion Buddha mandala before more than 300 intensely curious onlookers in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library in 2010. The monks will return Tuesday for the first time since then to paint another mandala for the Steamboat community.
Tom Ross

— The excited chatter and the gasps of joy and amazement from the hundreds packed into Library Hall on Wednesday night told the story of how lumps of carefully placed grains of sand can touch thousands of people in the Steamboat Springs community.

Members of the crowd, which overflowed into the hallway and to the riverbank outside Bud Werner Memorial Library, craned their necks and strained to hold up cameras as an intricate sand painting was swept into a multicolored spiral and then collected and poured into the nearby Yampa River.

The sand mandala, created throughout five days by monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India, represented Buddhist compassion, but its constant transformation was relatable to everyone in the room.

Buddhist monk Gala Rin­poche addressed the crowd before the final ceremony to remind the visitors of the impermanence of art, life and material things.

“If we reflect on life, it is so beautiful, like this mandala,” he said. “Each moment of life is so beautiful, if you think about the small things and get so upset about them … it’s a reminder. You live here, in America, in Steamboat, this is paradise. (The mandala) is to show us the impermanence of every conditional thing.”

What many thought would be a moment of devastation as the mandala was wiped away was instead a fluid transition into nothingness.

Steamboat resident Mary White, who received a token of the ceremony in a bag of sand from the mandala, said the rainbow-streaked spiral of sand was just as beautiful as the completed work of art.

“I thought it would bother me, because it was just so intricate and labored,” she said, as she tucked the bag of sand into a Tibetan purse she bought from the monks. “But it was a beautiful part of the ceremony. I understand what they mean about not having attachment to conditional things.”

She and hundreds of others waited by the river after the first part of the ceremony to watch as the monks chanted and blew horns while pouring a stream of sand into the water.

“We believe it will become the beautification of the whole environment,” Rinpoche said about the importance of water in the mandala ceremony.

The monks began the project Saturday, and that day the library logged 1,200 visitors. One thousand came through the doors to see the monks’ progress Sunday.

But as the mandala grew in size, complexity and beauty, the excitement about it spread across the community.

Two thousand visits were counted Monday, 2,200 Tuesday, and 2,600 people came through the library doors Wednesday.

Library adult program coordinator Jennie Lay was nearly speechless after the ceremony.

“I’m totally inspired,” she said. “This is the town that I love. … I’m happy I had the opportunity to spread this much happiness here.”

But as people stopped to thank her, she said it was the monks they should be thanking.

“They brought their energy and shared it with everybody,” she said. “And we gave it back, I feel like.”

The monks must have agreed because Rinpoche said the group elected to stay another night and perform a complementary medicine Buddha puja, a healing ceremony, at noon today in Library Hall.

Rinpoche said the group felt a warmth and compassion in Steamboat and noticed how its inhabitants and visitors showed love for one another. The compassion mandala only was a reminder of that, and a way to transform negative energy and thoughts into positive vibrations that reach all beings.

“You have very happy lives,” he told the crowd before the ceremony. “And the whole purpose of life is to be happy.”

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