Watch a Tibetan Wheel of Life mandala take form

Tenzin Wangdu Thokme, L, and Ven. Lama Losang Samten, R. Photo: Xeni Jardin.

I traveled to Santa Barbara this week to observe the Santa Barbara Tibet Summit, and the creation of a Tibetan sand mandala under the direction of Ven. lama Lobsang Samten.

Above, a short video I shot yesterday on my iPhone in which Samten explains some of the history and symbolism behind the "Wheel of Life" mandala, which is based in a very old tradition but also encompasses some newer creative elements.

It was a beautiful thing to see and hear, over the course of days. The chakpur, those conical metal tools you see in the video that they use to "paint" with the sand, make a raspy percussive rhythmic sound. It's hypnotic. When you can hear that you've achieved just the right pace and rhythm with that sound, one monk said, you know your mind has reached a meditative state of emptiness, and that is where you're supposed to be when you are creating the mandala.

The environment was reverent but there was also some goofing around, as evidenced in the photo below, in which Ven. Thepo Rinpoche takes an iPad snapshot of Samten's head. Yes, some monks carry iPads and iPhones and other gadgets, and they sometimes use them in interesting ways.

"His bald head is a mandala!" Thepo-la said as he snapped the picture. And then they both cracked up.

Ven. Thepo Rinpoche snaps a photo of Samten's head as he works on the sand mandala. Photo: Xeni Jardin.

Samten and assisting monks (and others) completed the mandala this morning at 11am PT.

Tomorrow, Saturday January 26, they will ritually destroy the mandala in a ceremony that takes place at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara at 11am PT.

Why are the sand mandalas destroyed, when they are so beautiful and take so much labor and devotion to create? I asked Samten.

"They're like a birthday cake. They are meant to be eaten."

I will be there at the destruction ceremony Saturday. If you're a Boing Boing reader in Southern California, I encourage you to come, too. Schedule here; there are other things happening around the Tibet Summit over the weekend, including film screenings tonight and on Sunday (coincidentally, the Santa Barbara Film Festival is happening this week, too).

Losang Samten, working on the Wheel of Life mandala in Santa Barbara. Photo: Xeni Jardin