A Buddhist monk named Geshe Palden Sangpo visited Elon University in Raleigh, North Carolina on 14 September. During his three-day visit, Geshe Palden Sangpo, a teacher of the Gelugpa tradition, constructed a Green Tara sand mandala.
While at Elon, Geshe Palden Sangpo performed the Green Tara Sand Mandala ceremony, which is designed to create feelings of peace and harmony in the hearts and minds of participants. The hope is that the students and teachers who viewed the ceremony would then take those feelings with them, spreading ripples of compassion throughout the world.
The ceremony was held on campus, at the Numen Lumen Pavilion. After Geshe Sangpo created the mandala, it remained until 16 September to be viewed by students, teachers, and visitors. Everyone who attended the closing ceremony witnessed the mandala’s ceremonial destruction, and were encouraged to take a little of the blessed sand with them.
Geshe Sangpo was born in eastern Tibet, in the town of Kham Karze. When he was 12 years old, he traveled to Sera Jey Mahayana Monastery to study Buddhism. In 1987 he traveled to Drepung Monastery, one of the “great three” Gelug universities, to take novice vows. In 1995, he returned to Sera Jey, where he was ordained as a monk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
After his ordination, Geshe Sangpo became an expert at Haya Girva ritual practice. In 2008, he moved into Kadampa Center, affiliated with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), where he uses his expertise to provide guidance on rituals and teach Buddhism classes.
Geshe Sangpo has given lectures on Tibetan Buddhist rituals at a number of universities; including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, Elon University, and Meredith College. In October 2014, Geshe Sangpo was authorized as a resident teacher at Kadampa Center, FPMT.
Pamela Winfield, professor of religious studies at Elon University, had this to say about the mandala ceremony: “It serves as a place of assistance for one to achieve self-realization and recognize their potential for buddhahood through visualization and meditation. In Buddhism, this is known as nirvana, which is the absence of desire. It is a continual practice of selflessness rather than selfishness.” (Today at Elon)
During the mandala ceremony, Geshe Sangpo used colored sand to create a two-dimensional representation of a palace with Green Tara in the center. Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhists have used this ceremony to summon buddhas and bodhisattvas into a ritual space. The destruction of the mandala at the end of the ceremony releases the buddhas and bodhisattvas from the space and also serves as a reminder of life’s impermanence.
This ceremony was designed to call Green Tara into the space. She is an emanation of compassion in Tibetan Buddhism. In artistic representations, Green Tara is usually depicted seated on a lotus throne with her right leg hanging down. She carries a closed blue lotus.
Geshe Sangpo has performed the Green Tara mandala ceremony at Elon University’s Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life every year since 2013, thanks in part to the close relationship that Elon University has with the Kadampa Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he is based.
Hilary Zaken, interim assistant dean of multifaith engagement at Elon, described the relationship: “This grants us the unique privilege of greater religious and spiritual exploration. Elon University is a multifaith campus, which means that we welcome students of all and no religious traditions in our spaces, and host festivals, programs and observances from many different religious and spiritual traditions.” (Today at Elon)
Buddhist monk to construct sand mandala at Numen Lumen Pavilion this week (Today at Elon)
Geshe Sangpo (Kadampa Center)
Tara, Buddhist goddess (Britannica)
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