Creating, and Dismantling, a Mandala at Trinity
“Circle of Compassion, Circle of Peace”


Eight Tibetan Buddhist nuns recently transformed Garmany Hall in the Austin Arts Center from a black box theater into a spiritual space in which they created, and dismantled, a sand mandala. The nuns, from the Keydong Thuk-Che-Cho-Ling Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, began building the mandala February 1 and completed it on February 14, when it was ceremoniously dismantled and the sand transported to the Connecticut River. Returning the sand to the earth is considered a powerful symbol of the transitory nature of life. During the building process, which was open to the public, the mandala was surrounded by an exhibit of sacred Tibetan Buddhist art on loan from Sarah Miller of Windsor, Connecticut.

A mandala is a graphic representation of the perfected environment of an enlightened being: in this case, Avalokiteshvara, the Deity of Compassion. A mandala can be read as a bird’s-eye view of a celestial palace, with a highly complex and beautiful architecture adorned with symbols and images that represent both the nature of reality and the order of an enlightened mind. At a deeper level, a mandala is a visual metaphor for the path to enlightenment: its viewers ‘enter’ a world artfully designed to evoke attitudes and understandings of their deepest nature.


According to Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion Laura Harrington, who gave a lecture in coordination with the start of the project, “The most common translation of the Sanskrit term mandala is circle, connoting not only the literal shape but a broader feeling of wholeness, entirety, symmetry, and harmony. In ordinary language, we often speak of a ‘circle of friends.’ The circularity of a mandala retains something of that meaning, for it refers to a group of deities related to a central deity or theme.”

The College’s connection with the Keydong Nunnery began in 1998 when seven nuns came to campus, at the request of Professor of Theater and Dance Judy Dworin, to create a mandala of compassion. That event attracted more than 2,000 visitors. This year’s project, also arranged by Dworin, is a collaborative effort between Wellesley College and over 20 departments at Trinity.

“By meditating upon oneself as the deities of the mandala, reflecting deeply upon its rich symbolism and engaging in particular internal practices,” explains Harrington, “we can transform our daily perception, lodged in its chaotic, egocentric world-environment, into exalted wisdom and the perfected world of enlightened beings—that is, into the blissful world of Buddhas.”