How ancient mandala art will create healing after flood

Tibetan monk Tenzin Tsundu’s chants echo through the halls of Fort Calgary entrancing visitors as they watch him create a sand mandala to honour the victims of the massive flooding in June.

A traditional Buddhist art form, the mandala is more of a ritual than a tangible artwork. Over time, the artist creates an intricate design out of sand. The work is briefly admired – then destroyed.

The destruction of the artwork is meant to demonstrate the impermanence of the tragedy and pain that came with the flooding. Tsundu says, “We cannot attach this to our minds or our hearts. Keeping that in our heart is very painful, and sometimes we need to let go.”

Seeing images of the flood on the news from his home in British Columbia, Tsundu was inspired to help those impacted. He called Fort Calgary to see if it was possible for him to come and perform the ritual over a 10-day period in the fall.

Produced by Tanis Brown.

Cynthia Klaassen, visitor services manager at Fort Calgary, answered the call and says she is thrilled to host Tsundu as he creates the mandala in his makeshift workspace – the top of the museum’s historic pool table. The different patterns used for mandalas contributes to the unique symbolism of each one.

Photo by Tanis Brown

Tsundu created the mandala by layering various colours of sand in an intricate pattern depicting the female Buddha of compassion.

“People want to do something for the victims in Calgary, they want to help in some way, and this is Tenzin’s way of helping,” says Klaassen, who is a victim of the flood herself.

“It’s his wish that the creation of the mandala and the prayers that he has been praying all week will give the people some relief from the stress of the flood. We feel blessed to be part of this process.”

Spending an hour each morning meditating, Tsundu prays to the female Buddha of compassion – who is honoured in the mandala – to bring harmony to Calgary. For six to eight hours each day, Tsundu crafts the intricate image by layering various colours of sand.

In a final ceremony, Tsundu destroys the image, gathering each grain of sand into a vase. On the edge of the Bow River, with a crowd of onlookers, Tsundu pours the sand into the water, letting it symbolically carry away the pain of the flood.It takes Tsundu 10 days to create his artwork, after which he destroys his artwork and pours each grain into the river to show sadness and tragedy are not permanent.

Photo by Tanis Brown

“When we realize that bad things are impermanent we can find inner peace,” Tsundu says. “The mandala is a blessing for the community and the environment, and I hope that this brings happiness back to the city.”

tbrown@cjournal.ca