All In A Day: A Monk Of Buddhism, Mandala Design, And Art Lost To The River

I follow the Festival of Faiths on Facebook. It is an annual interfaith festival working toward peace through mutual understanding. I saw that there was a Mandala being created by visiting monks. They came way of the Drepung Gomang Institute here in Louisville. The Mandala was being constructed at the Christ Church Cathedral downtown on 2nd Street. They would be working for a week and then the ending ceremony would be on Friday. I went down on Thursday to see it, but I could not find parking. My timing was bad as it was the lunch hour rush….my mistake. So, I decided to come back on Friday, but much earlier. I did and found parking right in front of the door of the Diocesan House. 

As I was coming into the inner door, a fellow stopped me. He was Terry Taylor, the Executive Director of Interfaith Paths To Peace. He asked me if I were Muslim (the head scarf gave it away). I responded in the positive and then he asked that I speak on behalf of the Muslims in Louisville on peace. I would be one of many who were there to represent our faiths. The imam that he has connections with was unavailable. I know the imam and I knew why he was “unavailable.” I was nervous, but so unbelievably happy to be a  progressive/reformist representative of the local Muslim community.


The entrance to the Christ Church Cathedral. It is an oasis of serenity in the madness of the busy business district of downtown Louisville. I could probably sit for hours at the bench with the insanity at my back.

The Buddhist monks worked patiently and diligently to create the Mandala for peace. They had many faiths represented in the Mandala surrounding the world with a dove for peace. Around the many faiths were people holding hands. The colored sand created such detailed images of beauty, such as koi, lotuses, mountains and waves of water. The most pleasant and calming sound came from the metal cones as they scraped one with the other allowing the vibrations to move the sand onto the platform. The Dalai Lama watched from a photo of him and his joyous smile.

The Mayor of Louisville, Greg Fischer, came and thanked the Buddhist Monks for coming to Louisville and creating a symbol of peace.  Geshe Kalsang Rapgyal, the Dalai Lama appointed scholar for Louisville, instructed the Mayor on the process and symbolism of the Mandala. He awarded the monks with honorary citizenship of Louisville. They in turn gifted him with a permanent sand Mandala for our city of compassion.

The monks took final photos of the Mandala and got prepared for the ending ceremony. They packed away the excess colored sand in burlap bags tucked away in suitcases. Then the representatives said a few words on peace for the world. This is where I was asked to speak. I was so ever-loving nervous and realized that I need to improve my public speaking skills. I do fine with interpersonal, but surely not public. Since it was impromptu, I had not really any idea of what to say… so I thanked everyone for coming and thanked the Buddhist monks for creating this beautiful Mandala for us and then said a prayer:  “Bismillahi Rahmani Raheemi (In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate), O Allah! Cause Love between our hearts, and improve our mutual relations and guide us to the paths of peace and security; taking us out of darkness, and guided towards the Light.” Christopher 2x, a local inner city community activist, also came and was quite impressed with the mandala. He praised the beautiful art and how through art we can work toward peace. He also stood for a photo-op with bumper stickers from Interfaith Paths To Peace. They read: “Put Down The Guns, Stop the Violence; Working For Peace In Louisville (using symbols)”

Then the ending ceremony began. Monks began with deep incantations; harmoniously charming. The monk first went around the Mandala ringing a bell. He then gathered up lotus blossoms and spread them around the Mandala. Oh! The scent of the blossoms were intoxicating! They quickly filled the room and a sense of tranquility fell upon us. When the paintbrush of destruction began to wipe away all their hard work, I was taken aback. After a moment of watching, I realized this is life…. no matter how hard you work, what you build, what you do; it is not permanent. Life is fleeting. I spoke my thoughts to a fellow watcher, Connie, and then she told me her own thoughts when we were holding our bags of colored sand; that in the destruction, it was still beautiful. There is beauty in death too. When something comes to an end, it is not all lost; it remains, just in a different form. The monks then played evocative music before we departed to the river.

We all gathered outside and walked the seven blocks to the river. On our way, we passed this historical marker. I thought it poetic given the latest events of racial oppression around our country and made a silent prayer that not only would peace affect those in other countries, but our own too. We have a lot of past wounds that need healing. We also need to ensure that our beautifully crafted constitution remains unsullied by those more powerful than the majority. The constitution is a symbol of the world as its very words and ideologies were crafted from sources all over the world. May peace come to the poor and unrepresented citizens who are implementing their God given rights of Freedom.

Once we arrived at the river’s edge, the monks began a chant with the horn. The little man with the white hat, was down on the river, with his whiskey keeping him company. He came in front of the monks and began unsteadily pointing fingers at them, and then fists. One monk, looked I positioned myself near so that if the man touched them, I could stop him. The other monks were so focused that they did not seem to notice his presence. I was very impressed by that level of concentration. The man eventually walked past them to some others of the group and the monks continued their ceremony. They placed the colored sand in the river so that it may flow around the world bringing peace along with it.

As we were leaving, the drunk fellow fell. I went over to him and gave him my hand to help him up. He was still stunned and just laid there for a moment, never letting go of my hand. He finally came around and Connie asked him his name. David, he said; King David that is. He then told me that the river took care of him. He loved the river. His hand still holding mine. Connie asked him if he had a place to stay and he said he lived in a camp on one of the islands in the river. We surmised he was homeless, because unless he had a boat, he had no means to make it to any of the islands, they were too far out. He eventually was ready to get up and I pulled him up. I had to body block him because he was about to fall again off of a step. We got him to step down and he then decided to sit on the step. He then pointed at me with his other hand and loudly pronounced, “Cherokee!” I responded that I was not. He again pronounced I was “Cherokee! You’re good, you must be Cherokee!” Ok, I am Cherokee. He bid us farewell and we headed back to the church. It made me reevaluate.  I need to get back to the days that I thought the best of people until proven wrong instead of thinking the worst of people until proven differently.

All in all, it was an incredible day. I took so much from it. I am so grateful for this experience.

UPDATE: This group of Buddhist Monks went on to Ferguson to protest with the people. They know how precious freedom is being exiled from their own homeland of Tibet for their faith.

buddhist monks in ferguson

(photo from Amy K. Nelson @AmyKNelson)

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