San Jose mandala ceremony offers universal lesson in change
Geshe Lobsang Dorji (left) led an hours-long chanting and praying session before dissolving the sand mandala Sunday. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    As chanting filled the main hall of a local Buddhist temple Sunday afternoon, San Jose resident Trang Huynh joined with about 50 people in praying and celebrating a sand mandala dissolution ceremony.

    “I prayed for my family, our community and the world,” Huynh, a devoted Buddhist for the last four years, told San José Spotlight.

    Two visiting monks from the Sera Jey Foundation spent last week at An Lac Temple, located near Little Portugal in San Jose, to teach Buddhism philosophy and construct a mandala out of colored sand. The mandala, an ancient Buddhist tradition, is believed to represent a cosmic map of the universe to enlightenment and peace, and can only be created by a few selected monks.

    The monks, assigned by the Dalai Lama, spent more than three days meticulously pouring sand by hand onto a blueprint to create the mandala. The holy ceremony ends with the breaking of the sand circle, as colorful grains of sand are swirled together into a gray pile. This symbolizes a core lesson of impermanence: Everything is bound to change and nothing lasts forever.

    Two visiting monks spent days at An Lac Temple in San Jose constructing the sand mandala. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    The event supports the Sera Jey Monastic University in India, where roughly 4,800 monks practice Buddhism. Geshe Lobsang Dorji, leader of the ceremony, said the institution doesn’t have adequate structures for its practitioners. Geshe is an academic title given to monks and nuns with high achievements in Buddhist philosophy.

    “We are all subject to life and death on this Earth,” Dorji said at the ceremony. “Nothing is permanent, nothing is enduring.”

    An Lac Temple, headed by Nun Nguyen Thanh, is among several San Jose Buddhist temples where Vietnamese residents can connect with their spiritual beliefs. Volunteers also teach children Vietnamese at the temple. Buddhism originated in India and has been an integral part of Vietnamese culture for thousands of years.

    Thanh was moved to tears during the ceremony, thanking the visiting monks for spending time and blessing San Jose residents with such a special event.

    “On behalf of the Vietnamese community here, I’m more than grateful for this,” she said. “We hope to come visit the institution one day.”

    After several hours of teachings on suffering and healing, the monks also blessed participants with red yarn and white scarves, hoping to bring them peace and luck. The monks then slowly dissolved the mandala as the crowd circled them. With each sweep, the colorful circle quickly disappeared. Leftover sand went into small ziplock bags to be handed out among participants as protection charms.

    More than 50 San Jose residents joined the visiting monks in praying and chanting Sunday. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    HG “Hanh Giao” Nguyen, who helped translate the teachings into Vietnamese, said the event was a success. Nguyen is a candidate for the San Jose District 5 council seat.

    “We’re so blessed to have them here and pray for peace,” Nguyen told San José Spotlight.

    Resident Peter Nguyen, in his 80s, was also among the crowd witnessing the ceremony Sunday. He said he goes to pray every day at An Lac Temple.

    “Praying has helped my mind and my spirit, especially during the last two pandemic years,” he told San José Spotlight. “This is the first time I get to see the mandala ceremony. I think it was very nice.”

    Geshe Lobsang Dorji spoke with Trang Huynh after the mandala dissolution ceremony. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Huong Tran, a friend of Peter’s, said she frequents different temples in San Jose. This was her first time participating in a mandala ceremony.

    “I just feel so much lighter after the ceremony,” Tran told San José Spotlight. “There’s so much love and trust going around.”

    Huynh, who knelt in front of the mandala during the dissolution ceremony, said she hopes one day to join a temple as a nun.

    “I’m so grateful for this event,” she said. “When the time is right, I hope to devote all of me to Buddhism.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. 

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