The photo of a Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala that appeared in the January/February BAM has been gnawing at me ever since (“All Is Flux,” Elms).
As the article noted, the creation of this mandala is a religious ritual with a particular focus: the transitory nature of all things. One of the monks who made the sand painting is quoted as saying “he didn’t feel a sense of loss when he destroyed a mandala. Buddhism sees everything—including our faith, our views, and our identity—as transitory.” By contrast, a Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology curator told the author that the Western way “is geared toward permanence and keeping things and collecting things.”
How is the meaning of this ritual supported by producing a permanent photograph of the mandala? It was gorgeous; I appreciated it for its aesthetic beauty, but as an event run by the Haffenreffer museum the mandala creation should, I believe, have remained a cultural expression, not simply a pretty picture. Permanently recording this transitory ritual robs it of its cultural significance and reduces it to a simple painting.
Samuel Baltimore ’05