Norman Cultural Connection will host a series of virtual workshops to celebrate and educate the attendees about the Tibetan tradition of the sand mandala.
Norman Cultural Connection is a local nonprofit cultural center funded by the Norman Arts Council and Oklahoma Humanities. The cultural center offers programs in cultural arts, world music, and meditation and wellness, according to its website.
Executive Director Marial Martyn said the creation of sand mandalas is a Buddhist tradition of arranging colorful grains of sand in an intricate design and then destroying the mandala at the end of the ceremony. The Norman Cultural Connection program will spotlight a group of Tibetan monks who have traveled to the U.S. to share their craft.
Martyn said she made a connection with the monks at the Gaden Shartse Monastery during her 2005 trip to New Mexico. The group was touring at the time, and she knew she wanted to share their art with people back in Norman. She said she told them to give her a call if they ever planned on visiting Oklahoma, and a few years later they did.
Unfortunately, this year COVID-19 had other plans. The monks, who were scheduled to complete a 2-year tour of the U.S., are currently stuck in California due to the pandemic. Martyn said this news was disappointing, but it won’t stop them from sharing this tradition.
After the monks were able to visit Norman for the first time in 2008, Martyn said they returned annually, until the disruption of the pandemic. Each year, people were invited to come see the creation and dissolution of the sand mandala. During the closing ceremony, the audience was invited to join the monks in depositing the sand in the Canadian River as a way to bless the environment and the people of the city.
Martyn said the decision to make the program virtual will still offer audiences an up close and personal look at the sand mandala practice. The monk’s creation of the sand mandala will be available for virtual viewing via the Norman Cultural Connection Facebook page.
“The camera will give us a really, really close view of the sand mandala so you can see the intricacies of the symbols that are created,” Martyn said.
The virtual viewing will include an opening and closing ceremony. During the closing ceremony, the monks will sweep away the intricate sand mandala and deposit the sand into California’s ocean.
“Sweeping (the sand mandala) up is a symbol of the impermanence of everything,” Martyn said. “We can't hold on to anything, nothing is permanent.”
In addition to the virtual viewings, Norman Culture Connection will also hold evening lectures over Zoom to explain the cultural significance of the sand mandala tradition.
The virtual viewings will be held at 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. every day from Sept. 21 to Oct. 3 on the Norman Cultural Connection Facebook page.
The Zoom lectures will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 22, 24, 29 and Oct. 1. Registration is available on the Norman Cultural Connection website.
“This is a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of the Tibetan culture and get an up close look at the creation of the beautiful sand mandala” Martyn said. “We're hoping that, for everyone's sake, we're all able to gather again in the near future and bring the monks back here in person.”