Lama Tenzin Yignyen, a Tibetan monk, teacher, and friend of Ross School, returned to the Ross community April 7–11 to meet with students, families, and staff; discuss Buddhist rituals and theology; and once again create a beautiful sand mandala as part of his teaching about meditation, mindfulness, and a path to happiness.
Lama Tenzin began the week by setting up an altar in the art room at Ross Lower School. Members of the community were invited to begin each day in silent meditation with him before he began working on the mandala of Tara, answering questions about Buddhist practices, and sharing his wisdom about overcoming obstacles to achieve a happy and peaceful existence.
“It is such a wonderful experience to have Lama Tenzin, the embodiment of the Ross core values, share his teachings and wisdom with us. It’s truly a very moving week for both students and adults to learn valuable lessons that we can all take with us through life,” said Jeanette Tyndall, head of Ross Lower School.
The sand mandala, an intricate circular design created with colorful sands, is used for meditation or to purify an environment and its inhabitants and promote harmony. Starting at the center, Lama Tenzin used a chak-pur, or metal funnel, to illustrate Tara, the Buddhist deity of enlightenment, and then expanded outward to include symbols of the eight obstacles to happiness.
“People describe internal and external obstacles, but it’s the internal that manifests itself in the exterior. Physical and verbal actions are slaves to mental actions. If you can control these obstacles, you can remove the consequences,” Lama Tenzin explained.
The obstacles to overcome are doubt or suspicion (obstacle to trust); a distorted view or expectation (obstacle to a realistic view); hatred (obstacle to love); ignorance (obstacle to wisdom); stinginess (obstacle to generosity); attachment to the superficial (obstacle to a state of nonattachment); jealousy (obstacle to appreciation); and pride (obstacle to humility).
“I want to give you something to take with you through your long lives,” Lama Tenzin told a group of Lower School students. “You will spend many years in study to develop your minds, but to be happy, it is most important to educate your heart.”
Lama Tenzin spent special time with each class at the Lower School and also addressed grades 7 through 12 at an assembly in the Center for Well-Being at the Upper School. “Try not to evaluate your happiness by how much money and possessions you gather,” he advised in response to a student’s question about finding the meaning of life. “If you attach your worth to an object or person, then you confine yourself to a small existence. Try to expand your heart beyond material wealth.”
Before his departure on Friday, students in grades kindergarten through 6 gathered for the dismantling of the mandala in a ceremony that concluded with Lama Tenzin returning the sands to the sea at Long Beach in Sag Harbor.
As he cut the mandala, Lama Tenzin asked the children to envision that all the obstacles in the world, particularly for their school, have been removed. “He makes mandalas to represent that nothing can last forever,” said one student. Another said, “I think it’s good to have him at the school because he reminds us to be really thankful for what we have instead of wanting more things. He teaches us about important things like patience, wisdom, love, and compassion.”