What Happens When You Drop Your Cell Phone Into the Sacred Buddhist Sand Painting?

Monks of the Yellow Hat Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism create a sand paining in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism created a sand painting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in December, 2014. A photo of the Dalai Lama is at left. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

The red-robed monks have spent days creating this intricate Tibetan sand painting. It’s a sacred mandala. At its center sits the Ashokbhya Buddha. Meditating on his image will help you overcome your anger and hatred. In his hand the Ashokbhya Buddha holds the vajra scepter representing unshakable enlightenment. The painting is nearly finished, and it is exquisite.

Yellow Hat Tibetan Buddhist monk grinds sand into the edge of a sand painting in Santa Fe NM. Photo by Barbara Newhall

A monk tapped sand onto the border of the mandala, which depicts the Akshobhya Buddha, the Immovable One, who embodies unshakable peace–equanimity–in the face of conflict. Photo by Barbara Newhall

You lean into the painting for a closer look. You hold your cell phone over it to snap a picture. The phone slips from your fingers and drops with a thud. Sand scatters. White sand mixes with green and one corner of the priceless, sacred mandala  is destroyed.

What happens next?

Not a thing. The monks tidy up. And the next day a visitor asks about the jagged bare spot in the mandala (That would be me. Because, no, I’d never hold my cell phone over a sacred Buddhist sand painting, would I?). A monk smiles with equanimity.

“Nothing is perfect,” he says.

A few days later, in an act symbolizing the temporariness of all things, the monks — with equanimity — swirl the sand on the table, mixing it together, destroying their week’s work.

PS: Just so you know, the word Islam means equanimity — surrender to what is.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like “Religion Scholar Huston Smith at 93: ‘Be Happy!'”  or  “Buddhist Teacher Jack Kornfield on Sex, Drugs and Enlightenment.”

A sand painting created by the monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism that depicts the Immovable Buddha is partly destroyed by accident when a visitor drops her cell phone onto it. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Tided up, but imperfect, the Santa Fe sand painting depicts the immovable Ashokbhya Buddha at its center — and the spot where the cell phone dropped, lower left. Photo by Barbara Newhall

For more about my newly released book, Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith, go to WrestlingWithGodBook.com. In the book, Buddhist teacher Martin Verhoeven tells the story of how he maintained his equanimity when a man pointed a gun at him during his 650-mile bowing pilgrimage up the California coast.

Video of the creation of a Tibetan sand mandala at Sonoma State University in 2011.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing. I have told so many people about the amazing sand-sculpture.

  2. A perfect demonstration of the Buddhist philosophy!
    Everything is transitory, life is an illusion.

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