On Wednesday night, The Teenager and I attended the closing ceremony for a sand mandala that had been made over five days at the yoga studio where I study.
On Thursday, I practiced the art of attachment and went shopping for baubles and trinkets for the new house. One of my purchases was a cowhide rug.
As I was checking out, flipping the cowhide onto the conveyor and then flipping it back into the cart, feeling its cow-y leather underside and soft hair, I felt the irony deeply. Perhaps not as much as the cow might have, had s/he been able to point out the extreme nature of attending (and being very moved by and filled up from) a ceremony to mark the completion of a Green Tara mandala, the Mother of Compassion, and then the next day condoning the slaughter of an animal.
This makes the ceremony no less moving but certainly reinforces the idea that Buddhism is truly a practice, not a perfect, and we are all just bits of dust in the universe, hopefully trying not to hurt others (minus a cowhide rug, a pair of leather shoes, and a burger every now and again, right?) in our quest to figure out what it all means.
The Teenager and I were talking about the ceremony on the way home, what struck us the most. The monk who explained the mandala stressed (through an interpreter who was dressed in white pants, white socks with white flips flops, and a Nirvana T-shirt, the one that looks cartoon-y with the eyes X-ed out so it looks dead) that when praying or meditating, it is fine to meditate on Green Tara and all her qualities, but it is also fine to meditate on yourself, imagining that you are invested with all of the qualities of a Buddha.
This is the way with yoga also. You don't need to chant "om" or speak Sanskrit, although both of those things, when offered up authentically and by a person who really means them, can be lovely. Real yoga, not the kind that features bendy white girls in sponsored athletic gear but the kind that offers each practitioner a path that is unique as a fingerprint, doesn't force you to worship a god or change. Real yoga meets each person where they are and helps them discover the truest, best version of themselves. Sometimes you have to wade through a lot of shit to get there, including self-doubt, discouragement, and tight hamstrings, but again, it's a practice, not a perfect.
I would not do the ceremony a bit of justice, but here is a glimpse into the sweaty, 90-minute ceremony that featured, chanting, a cacophony of music that sounded to my ears like toddlers fighting in a tin can, a few dumb questions (and a few good ones), and the shining face of the one monk who speaks English, standing up at the end and saying with a little impish grin, "Okay. All done."
Each picture is captioned.
[caption id="attachment_1144" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Working on the mandala on Tuesday before the ceremony. Four monks laid sand for five hours a day.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1149" align="aligncenter" width="960"] The completed mandala the following day. Photo by Gretchen Van Utt.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1145" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Detail. It looked like felt, not sand, and it took a lot of self-control for me to not touch it.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1147" align="aligncenter" width="720"] There were approximately eleventy million people in the studio, It was, as my friend Luke would say, hotter than a Shiite Muslim. These little kids watched through the windows.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1146" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Shiva looks over all, and the previously mentioned impish monk.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1150" align="aligncenter" width="960"] There was an audible gasp and everyone leaned forward when the monk first drew a line through the sand. He drew four lines (through the four gates?), and then two other monks used wide paintbrushes to brush the sand towards the center.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1148" align="aligncenter" width="2048"] Finally out of the sweaty room, we followed the monks to Robert E.Lee park and listened and watched as they poured the blessed sand into the Jones Falls so that it could spread through Baltimore. Funny hats are funny.[/caption]