Lessons From the Mandala: Venerable Tenzin Yignyen

Venerable Tenzin Yignyen

LLI members who attended spring classes May 6 – 10 had the pleasure of watching a Tibetan monk, the Venerable Tenzin Yignyen, construct a beautiful mandala made from grains of colored sand in the main lobby of the Reem-Kayden Center. At the end of the week, everyone could participate in a ceremony to dismantle the mandala and join a procession to the Sawkill River where the sand was sent off toward the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean.

Completed Manadala and Alter
Start of Mandala


We all know that everyone who has been born will also die. The mandala can be thought of as a symbol of impermanence. How will you spend your brief time on this earth?


The mandala symbolizes compassion. Lama Tenzin had a brass tool that is a Buddhist symbol of compassion and the symbol was also included in the mandala. On the image next to this description, see the brass tool on the white scarf; the symbol is repeated in gold in the gray circle of the mandala.

In fact, the brass tool was used to begin the dismantling of the mandala that was so painstakingly constructed, grain of sand by grain of sand. 


Dismantling such a beautiful mandala is an exercise in practicing non-attachment. While it is relatively easy to get rid of ugly things, it takes a strength of character to get rid of beautiful things. As humans, we cling to ideas of permanence and we are attached to our “things.” But, in the end, everything is cyclic, including our own lives. 


Many people say they do not have time to meditate. However, meditating on compassion is a proven way of developing more compassion in daily actions. For example, suppose someone calls you a thief. If you have meditated and know yourself well, you will know that just because someone called you a thief does not mean that you are a thief. If you have practiced quieting your mind through meditation, you are better able to pick the appropriate response to this accusation.

Do you become offended? Do you add to the disarray of the world by calling the person a name in rebuttal? Do you escalate the situation?

Do you take a moment and know that the accusation is not really about you (because you know you are not a thief). In that case, you can choose your response in a loving way, from either just walking away or being curious about the person calling you a thief. 

Did your response add to peace in the world or did it add to disarray?

(Of course, we are not often called a thief in this world. But, we all have experienced someone characterizing us as something we are not. How do we choose the best response?)

Finished Mandala
Lama Tenzin at Sawkill River


Lama Tenzin says that prayers should be for the good of humanity, not for personal gain. For example, when he prays, he might pray for no one in the world to be hungry, not for his own succulent meal. He might pray for no disease in the world or for healing from all diseases, not for one individual’s health.

As the Mandala that Lama Tenzin constructed was a gift to all who were able to behold, so was his presence. He showed a sincere interest in each person who inquired about the process. His focused concentration on the placement of each grain of sand was amazing. In addition to his witness to serious Buddhist thinking, he also demonstrated a twinkling sense of humor. Such an honor for Bard to have hosted and shared this transformational experience.

End of the Mandala 4:39 minutes