Impermanent beauty


The Fifth Parallel Galley honours traditional Buddhist art

Megan Narsing

When I walked into the Fifth Parallel gallery there was something definitely different about it. It wasn’t that there was a Buddhist monk making a giant mural in the center completely out of coloured sand; it was the sense of peaceful calm that surrounded me as I looked at the artwork around me.

The Fifth Parallel Gallery’s latest exhibit is the Medicine Buddha Mandala. “Mandala” is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle.” The circle is spiritually and ritually significant in Buddhism, and is also a way for one to express their own spirituality and connect to their individual significance of what a Mandala is.

Everyone perceives this in a different way. From the pieces in the gallery you can gather an idea at the different ways one can see a Mandala. Using a variety of media, the talents of Kim Chau, Sara Armstrong, Alyssa Pittet, Laura MacDonald, Toby Evans, Mike Binzer, Lisa Smith, Caitlin Mullan, Katherine Boyer, and Frank Armistead all have expressed through art what this means to them.

“For me, the Mandala is visually attractive, and I find that by looking at a Mandala I am able to let go – either temporarily or for an extended period of time – of any pressing thoughts I may have that day by looking at the patterning within a Mandala.” Laura MacDonald shared.
I approached Losang Samten, the former Buddhist monk and scholar that was brought to this university with the help of former Professor Dennis Evans, as he patiently used his materials to divide each grain of sand into his own representation of the Mandala.

Originally from Tibet, where he became a scholar and a monk, Losang is now retired. He keeps in touch with his spirituality by holding seminars and workshops explaining his work and meditation. He travels globally alongside Dennis Evans holding various demonstrations like the one in our own gallery.

Extremely friendly and approachable, he shared with me that the Mandala is a form of healing; in a way it cleanses your being.  I asked him how long it would take him to complete such a beautiful masterpiece and he said around two to three weeks, and when it’s done it gets swept up and released into the water.

“One of the main ideas of Buddhism is the impermanence,” gallery curator and artist Caitlin Mullan explained. “Even though it’s swept up it leaves such an impression in all the people that came to visit the gallery.”

“We are extremely grateful to the University and Vianne Timmons for providing the extra funding which allowed us to host Losang in our gallery,” Mullan said.

As I passed by the gallery on my way to class I saw a man in a corner lying down deep in thought, another sitting on the floor, eyes closed, lips pressed tight together, and all the while Losang concentrated on his work even with the busy university atmosphere penetrating the gallery walls.

Observing Losang, Laura noted that, “There is something very calming and relaxing about watching this work. Even portions of the Mandala [that] are small yet detailed sections, it seems that Losang approaches the Mandala at the same calm pace.  It is a great honor to have my artwork showcased alongside Losang.”

Don’t feel at all intimidated walking into the exhibit, even if you are of a different faith the gallery is very much for people of all walks of life and backgrounds. As Caitlin observed:

“I’ve seen so many people in there that I’ve never seen in the gallery before and I just find that exciting! There were two construction guys in there the other day and they were totally into it – just seeing that was really exciting for me. I hope more people can come in the future and feel comfortable in that atmosphere.”

It was quite remarkable to see. The Mandala gives comfort and offers a way of “healing” in its own way, in many forms. If you haven’t already done so, go to the gallery and experience it for yourself. Observe Losang as he works on the sand Mandala he’s been working on, and ask yourself: what does a Mandala mean to me? How does it speak out? There is no right or wrong answer. It is simply an experience.

The Fifth Parallel gallery is open for extended hours for this exhibit, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Losang usually works from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then from 2 to 4 p.m. If you’d like to learn more about the Medicine Buddha Mandala there will be a talk hosted by Losang on Thursday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Institute Français rotunda. The dismantling ceremony will be held on Sunday, Oct. 24 at 1:30 p.m.

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