At the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls, MT I had a chance to watch a Tibetan Buddhist monk present the technique of sand mandala construction. When I walked in, the room was so quiet. I realized that everyone was literally entranced watching the creation of the sand mandala.
Some things I learned – the word mandala is Sanskrit meaning circle, polygon, community or connection. The diagram on the mandala represents the dwelling of a deity. There were displays around the room showing commonalities between Tibetan and Native American cultures. As the monk worked on his sand mandala creation, I looked at Navajo sand paintings with many similarities. The Blackfeet tribe northwest of Great Falls has several artists who do porcupine quill embroidery or quilling. These displays also had similarities to the Tibetan sand mandala. Tibetans have used yak hair tents, the plains Indians used buffalo hide lodges. A coracle for river floating in Tibet is made by stretching yak hide over juniper frames. The plains Indians used bull boats made by stretching a buffalo hide over a wooden frame. And, the list goes on. Displays captured the similarities and also the contrasts.
The monk working on the sand mandala didn’t speak English but a translator took questions from the audience and then responded with the monk’s answers. The monk seemed to have a good sense of humor and he seemed to enjoy sharing his culture with the audience.
The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center sponsors programs throughout the year with the majority during summer months. Evening and daytime programs are offered both inside and outside the center.