I have thought for some time that people devise many scenarios in which they feel they can express themselves, and then come to believe that the scenarios are necessary.
I am talking about scenarios that may at first sight not seem like scenarios at all. I am talking about many businesses and institutions that seem to be necessary for society to function. In reality they are the consequence of people’s need to find a context in which they feel comfortable expressing themselves.
Now we live in an age when the system has taken on such a life of its own, that it seems absolutely the outcome of logic, evolution, and careful planning. And to question it is heresy.
In February 2019 I went to Nepal. I had wanted to go there since the time I was in India and went to visit a Hindu temple. The walk to the temple, which was high in the hills, took several hours. And dotted here and there, Newari Nepalis had set up little tea shops – tents and seats and boiling tea. The people running the tea shops attracted me, but it was not until 26 years later that I got to go to Nepal.
What I want to talk about here is the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery, in Boudhanath, near Kathmandu. Shechen is gorgeous.
I was lucky to happen to go when some monks were making a three dimensional sand mandala. Seven monks in the great hall, sitting and lying on a raised platform several feet in diameter, putting pigment onto it, and onto more levels above it, each level smaller than the one below it. And apart from them, the great hall was empty. So I could stand and watch, and sit and take it all in.
The monks sprinkled different coloured pigments from tapered metal tubes about a foot long. The tubes had grooves on one side, and the monks used metal rods to rasp along the grooves. This encouraged the pigment to sprinkle ever so slowly out of the narrow end of the tube.
It was such painstaking work, blending areas of colour together. I don’t know how long it would take to make that mandala, but several full days at least.
The sense of community, of people working very closely together was surely not about the product. Sand mandalas are thrown away, and that impermanence is essential to the purpose of their creation.
If the purpose of making them is to reinforce the sense of the impermanence of things then it was also surely about the ongoing experience of working together in the right frame of mind.
The hall of the temple in which they were working was a masterpiece of detail. High ceiling, maybe twenty five feet high, with the walls, columns, and ceiling decorated in similar fine, exact detail.
If ego can inflate unnaturally, like a football, then learning to live with one another is an antidote.