Venerable Tenzin Constructs Sand Mandala at Upper School

By Hannah Garcia November 13, 2023

The Buddhist Monk Venerable Tenzin Yignyen visited 80 Gerry’s Landing Road for a week to create and then dismantle a traditional sand mandala in the main art gallery. While he worked, students, teachers, and staff from all three campuses stopped by to not only watch the ancient art in action but to listen to his words of wisdom and ask questions. 

Spearheaded by Upper School art teacher and Director of the Gallery and Petropoulos Art Scholar Program Nicole Stone and supported by faculty and staff, there was a steady stream of community members observing the work in progress. Stone most recently encountered Tenzin at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design last year when she took her AP Art History students to see him talk. 

Seeing Tenzin’s presentations and musings while making the mandala revealed to Stone “that this ancient art continues to be a vital contemporary practice. This unique experience planted seeds of understanding of how art, in this case a sand mandala, is integral to manifesting Buddhist ideals such as impermanence, compassion, and patience, and is also a vehicle for understanding and connection between people.” 

With the seed of an idea forming, Stone resolved to find a way to bring Tenzin to BB&N to share with the community “how art can be a vehicle for greater understanding and connection.” Thanks in part to funding and the vision of Stone, Tenzin graced the halls of the Upper School in October 2023 to make a sand mandala and spread his thoughts. 

The mandala took about 4 days to complete, and in keeping with the Buddhist tradition, was dismantled soon after to remind viewers of the impermanence of life. There are many types of mandalas that invoke different emotions, but the Venerable Tenzin said that he always makes one that symbolizes compassion for schools. 

In his presentations to students, Tenzin emphasized the importance of happiness and educating your heart along with your mind, which is reflected in his mandala selection. Tenzin referred to the ancient Indian art piece as the “antidote” for what ails you. 

Throughout the week, 448 students signed up to witness the construction, while countless other individuals and classes from all three campuses stopped by during their free time to talk with Tenzin. Stone noted that with each interaction, the monk “met students with playfulness, kindness, and good humor, as they stepped outside their comfort zones to learn about his perspective and from his knowledge.”

One student, Matthew Walsh ’26 recalled a discussion of letting go of tangible objects and possessions, reflecting that “our conversation with Tenzin made me realize that making art can also be done through figurative speech which can inspire others to live more thoughtful and positive lives.”

Following the completion of the four-day project, in accordance with Buddhist tradition, the Venerable Tenzin blessed the sand and then cut through the outside of the borders to begin dismantling the final project. The onlooking students grabbed a sponge brush and helped move the piece into a pile for the monk to gather in a vase.

A small group of Petropoulos Art Scholar Program students and Stone went with Tenzin to Black’s Nook at Fresh Pond Park where they met Head of School Jennifer Price. The monk began an intimate ceremony to return the sand back to nature; reflecting not only the Buddhist traditions but also what Stone saw all week, the “abundance of this community’s generosity of spirit in response to his offering.” 

After a gratifying and enriching week, Stone reflected that “the BB&N community responded powerfully to the creation and dismantling of this artwork. People listened carefully to his ideas promoting the idea that education is only complete when both hearts and minds are developed together. I saw the ripples at the edge of the mandala as a visual reminder of the potential to radiate this gift of compassion outward.” 

Tenzin gave his whole spirit to the art piece and disseminating knowledge, and in turn, the BB&N community responded with wholehearted connection and curiosity.