The Kalachakra and Losang Samten- Culture, Art & History

People and their stories never cease to amaze me and serve as inspiration to us all! Losang Samten escaped from Tibet with his family by trekking over the Himalaya to Nepal and then India.

Losang Samten went on to become an accomplished artist, dancer, philosopher and teacher. He was the first person to make a sand painting in America with the blessing of the Dalai Lama. He was awarded the Pew scholarship, National Heritage, Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the director of the Chenezrig Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia.

Recently, Losang returned to Philadelphia in conjunction with the Gershman Y with an offering in the spirit of peace, a sand mandala. He worked for a month to complete the Kalachakra mandala. Working daily for hours of intricate labor requires skill, discipline, focus and dedication. Some people returned several times to watch as the month passed and the mandala slowly evolved. It was a pleasure to meet him and spend some time with him. He has a Zen-like presence and a hearty sense of humor!

*Here are some very educational and interesting things you can learn to make the meaning of a “simple” sand painting into a life lesson:

The best-known form of the Kalachakra mandala is the sand mandala, for which colored sand grains are painstakingly placed. This sand drawing represents a 3-dimensional palace of which every single detail has a symbolic meaning. A mandala is a symbolic representation of many aspects of a specific tantra. In the Kalachakra tantra, all elements of the mandala refer to the universe (outer Kalachakra), the body and mind (inner Kalachakra) and the practice (initiation, generation and completion stages).

Every detail of the mandala, from each deity to every adornments of the building, refers to time and the universe (Outer Kalachakra), physical and mental aspects of Kalachakra and ourselves (Inner Kalachakra), and also to aspects of the practice (Alternative Kalachakra).

The sand mandala is typically drawn in sand using a chakpu – a metal funnel with an opening through which sand is tapped out. The sand image is intended to be a two-dimensional representation of Kalachakra’s three-dimensional palace; therefore it is drawn in plan view.

Kala Sand

The word Kalachakra means “Wheel of Time” and it is the name of the primary deity who resides in the Kalachakra mandala. In Buddhist teachings, Kalachakra is time itself.

Kalachakra is described as having black skin, four faces (one black, one white, one yellow, and one red), twelve arms, and twenty-four hands. He is represented by a vajra (or, “thunderbolt”), drawn in blue sand in the very center of the mandala. Losang Samten, the creator of the mandala, was carrying a bronze representation of a vajra in his hand during the ceremony]

The palace contains five stories, each divided into four quadrants by compass direction. Each quadrant is colored so as to represent the elements within the human body; East corresponds with the color black, North corresponds with white, West with yellow, and South with red (just as the four faces of Kalachakra are colored). The five stories consist of the Enlightened Body, Enlightened Speech, Enlightened Mind, Enlightened Wisdom, and Enlightened Great Bliss. They are drawn as exponentially-proportioned mandalas nested within each other.

Beneath the palace are four elemental rings and two outer rings (for a total of six). From the inside outward, they consist of rings of earth, water, fire, wind, space, and wisdom.

Dwelling within each story of the mandala and some of the outer elemental rings is a total of 722 deities, both male and female, of varying colors, dispositions, and symbolisms. They are usually depicted as dots called bindus, resting on the petals or centers of lotuses. The sand mandala is drawn as a temporary home for these deities.

As the final step in the process, the deities are dispersed through prayer, and the sand mandala is dismantled. The energy of the mandala is cut along the orthogonal Brahman lines using a vajra, and the sand is swept into the center and eventually into a special urn. On the edge of a body of water, such as a river or an ocean, monks pray for the purification of the environment and those within it. The sand is then poured into the water, as an offering for the welfare of all beings. Many of those who are unfamiliar with Buddhist thought are confused or taken aback by the destruction of the intricately detailed mandala. However, the dismantling serves an important purpose in acknowledging the impermanence of all aspects of life. *

Losang Samten travels the world bringing mandalas to people as well as dance, music, prayer, chanting and teaching Tibetan culture and practices. Broadening our horizons here in Philadelphia and everywhere he goes his presence and work are sure to be a delight and a blessing!

*Conley Cheaberlin contributed this portion of the mandala explanation & WE THANK HIM GREATLY FOR EFFORTS!

Losang Teaches Upclose Kala

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