Sand Mandala

September 21-25, 2009

The South Asia Center in the Moynihan Institute and the Maxwell School welcomed the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies as they created the Chenrezig mandala September 21-25, 2009.

This special event was held in the Strasser Commons area on the second floor of the Maxwell School. The public was welcome to view the mandala during business hours all week.

Background Information

Pronounced mahn-DAH-la, meaning 'house' or 'palace', the mandala represents a Buddha's divine place of residence. There are hundreds of mandalas representing each of the different tantric deities, each with its own unique set of details. To the practitioner, the mandala represents the activities and teachings of the particular deity represented in the mandala, and can be described as the residences of the respective deities and their retinues.


The Chenrezig mandala represents the residence of five deities, with Chenrezig Buddha residing in the foremost center, Akshobhya Buddha in the East, Ratnasambhava Buddha in the in the South, Vairocana Buddha in the West, and Amoghasiddhi Buddha in the North. These deities represent different aspects of overcoming the 5 delusions of ignorance, anger, attachment, jealousy, pride.

Chenrezig is the Tibetan term for Avaloketishvara meaning "The one who looks with an Unwavering Eye." Chenrezig is a manifestation of the all the Buddha's loving kindness. The Avaloketishvara or Buddha of Infinite Compassion (Chenrezig) Mandala helps to bring the message of generating compassion for all suffering sentient beings, and that of overcoming anger and hatred.

Although this mandala is made on a flat surface it is, to the devout, a three dimensional palace, representing the mind of the Buddha. The person contemplating the mandala enters into it, as they would a building or an enclosure.

Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies in Ithaca, New York, is the North American Seat of the Personal Monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The founding of Namgyal Ithaca in 1992 marked an important new phase in the history of Buddhism and Tibetan culture in America. Launched with the inspiration of the late Venerable Pema Losang Chogyen, a Namgyal monk, and several of his American friends, Namgyal Ithaca was established as a branch of the main Namgyal Monastery located in Dharamsala, India. The primary mission of the newly established Ithaca branch was to offer Western students the opportunity to study authentic Tibetan Buddhism in a monastic setting.

The Visiting Monks 

Venerable Lobsang Tashi


Born in Gyaltse in Tibet on August 13, 1956, Lobsang Tashi became a refugee in Bhutan in 1960 as a result of the 1959 Chinese invasion of Tibet. Becoming a monk at the age of 9, he studied reading, writing, and memorization of Buddhist texts. In 1979 Lobsang Tashi relocated to Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India, where he enrolled in the thirteen-year Namgyal Tantric College curriculum, earning the degree of Master of Buddhist Sutra and Tantra. This curriculum requires extensive study of academic subjects (Buddhist epistemology, logic, debate, ethics, and meditation) and ritual arts (music and chanting, dance, esoteric, and tantric practices). 

For fourteen years Lobsang Tashi served as Secretary at Namgyal-India, traveling at times to Japan and Europe to create sand mandalas. He then worked at the Namgyal branch in Bodhgaya, India for three years, after which, from 2004-2007, he cared for the elderly in Shimla, India.  In October 2007 Venerable Lobsang Tashi arrived in Ithaca as part of a contingency of monks who created the sand mandala at Cornell University's Johnson Museum of Art and chanted at events during His Holiness the Dalai Lama's visit. He continues as a Namgyal Institute resident monk and as a teacher of Buddhist philosophy and texts, roles which draw upon his earlier Namgyal-India training.


Venerable Dhondup Gyaltsen


Born in Tibet in 1944, Venerable Dhondup Gyaltsen was destined to lead a monastic life.  He was chosen as an infant to dedicate his life to the Dharma. Raised with his sixteen brothers and sisters on their farm, Venerable Gyaltsen had become a monk by the age of nine.  To avoid religious persecution, Venerable Dhondup Gyaltsen escaped from Tibet in 1959.  He then joined Namgyal Monastery in 1963 where he completed his monastic studies in 1967.  Venerable Gyaltsen was the first monk to join and complete monastic training in exile at Namgyal Monastery, the personal monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  From 1981 through 1984 Venerable Dhondup Gyaltsen served as Chaplain for the Tibetan Army.  He also served in varied capacities including discipline master of the Namgyal Monastery, upholding proper protocols and customs.

In 1988 on his first trip to the United States, Venerable Dhondup Gyaltsen along with Lobsang Samten demonstrated the Kalachakra Mandala Sand Painting at the Museum of Natural History in New York City.  Venerable Gyaltsen continued his travels in 1991, constructing sand mandalas in Russia, France, Africa, and Mongolia with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  In 1992, Venerable Dhondup Gyaltsen was one of four founding monks who started the Ithaca, NY, branch of Namgyal Monastery where he taught religious studies.  In 1999, Venerable Gyaltsen made Maui, Hawaii, his permanent home, where he helped to create the Tashi Pendey Foundation.  Venerable Dhondup Gyaltsen works to raise funds and awareness in support of Tibetan children, elders, nuns, and monks living in exile and continues to direct the Tibetan Cultural Conservancy on the island of Maui, which supports cultural preservation through the teaching and practice of Dharma.