Sand Mandalas Explained, with Losang Samten

My name is Losang Samten. I’m from Tibet,
born in Tibet and then fled Tibet in 1959 at the age of 5. I came to Nepal first and
then eventually came to India. And so I grew up in India and then eventually came to the
United States in 1988. Ever since then I’ve been creating a lot of ancient Tibetan sand
mandalas. Of course all the mandalas are tradition but some of the mandalas are such – all
are so beautiful but sometimes it’s hard to explain for the general public who do not
have that much background of Buddhists and Buddhist philosophy. What I’m showing to you here this image
is called Wheel of Life. In our language it’s called srid pa’i ‘khor lo. The wheel of life
which in many ways is fascinating and also me as an artist to display this art in the
schools, especially the schools and kids can understand a lot better and not only just
intellectually understand better but something to relate to in their life. So what is in
the Wheel of Life in the mandala or in design, the middle there’s three animals. And the
three animals are a snake, a rooster and pig. Three animals are there. They’re also chasing
to each other, connecting to each other which means what is their causes of suffering? What
makes us so difficult? What makes our wheel so stressful? So each animal means something.
Not the animal itself but represents something what we’re going through on a day to day
basis. So the pig represents the ignorance, lots
are due to our emotions, special negative emotions and the difficulties and frustrations
and even killing each other are due to the ignorance – not seeing the true nature of
the reality. And unfortunately sometimes we as a pure teaching either Buddhism or Christianity
and Judaism and Islam and all of this, even though due to how to peace – due to how
to create human peace and happiness but some individuals due to the ignorance use as a
killing tool in the name of the religion. So it’s the pig, the animal, which in the
middle symbolizes ignorance. Two other animals are there too and the snake
represents the anger. Hatred is such a big problem in my life or anybody’s life in
today and the past due to our relationships, due to anything – anger is really damaging.
When Buddha designed this what was original was a pig and a snake. In the rooster case
we really don’t know if the original was a rooster or a pigeon. There’s a little
different – scholars have a different interpretations. So that’s why when I draw sand mandalas
sometimes I draw it as a rooster, sometimes I draw it as a pigeon to both will be happy.
No too much conflicts. And so the pigeon represents – either the pigeon or the rooster represents
the greed, the greed, the greed. We see that today in the twenty-first century and so much
greed and all these problems in the modern society. Damaging for the environment, damaging for
many different things is truly greed. So which I said earlier in the beginning of my conversation
these are the three – the ignorance and the greed and the anger are the difficult
ones. So these are the causes of the suffering. Suffering rises from nothingness. Suffering
rises from due to something there previously, something happened and because of that and
rises. So that’s why the wheel of life is so famous in the Buddhist field and especially
in Tibet or Mongolia and Bhutan or some of the ancient Buddhist temples, wheel of life
is in the campus. In a way the monastery or nunnery is like
your university. So big campus. In Tibet one monastery is like a 20,000 or 30,000 monks
who are living there and study there, debate there and that’s they’re home. So either
in the library or meditation room, somewhere wheel of life is always they paint it in the
big wall. So that’s the middle of the design of the wheel of life. And the second design
there and now I’m talking about the middle. And the second circle of the wheel of life
there is black and white or day and night sort of it symbolizes. More of these three
animals, there’s more difficulties, less of those – there’s more joy. So sometimes
we call it as good karma and bad karma. And then there’s the third circle is divided
into six sections or called six rooms or six different places we might reborn again and
again and again. The six are – the number one is the heaven. This is not necessarily
we’re talking heaven as the other tradition we call heaven but a little different way.
And demigods and the human which we all are. And then animal and then hungry ghosts and
then hell realm. And then the last ring is called the 12 dependent origination. All are
depending to each other. One of the most important Buddhist teachings not only the loving kindness
and compassion is so important but plus, Buddha is like a revolutionary to me. He really understood
about everything is interdependent. Everything is dependent to each other. And
so these are – so many of these are the depth of teachings and simply and explained
through the art. And this will be doing many years and thousands and thousands of years.
The beginning was in India and then Buddhism came to Tibet around the seventh century.
And especially around eight, nine, ten, eleventh century really Buddhism was in Tibet was solely
sort of I would say that, you know, mixed with their individuals or community’s life.
And we’ve been doing this wheel of life either thangka painting they call it or drawing
the image in the wall. But I’m not sure never done by the sand but then the design
is an ancient one but the material used, the sand, is sort of like my own idea. I was doing
a lot of sand mandalas in the United States and Canada and in other places. And our reason
is because this is such a unique painting, it explains so much things are and relate
to in our life. But yet anybody can understand about this design. So that’s really the
meaning of the Wheel of Life.


  1. That's so interesting Buddhists know wrongdoing is caused by ignorance at it's core. The same idea as Socrates. 

  2. Not all things are interdependent, I can think of two that while coexisting in balance with one another, certainly do not exist in a harmonious, peaceful or synerginistic balance.

  3. I enjoyed this a lot, big thanks to Venerable Lama Losang Samten! you have enlightened my morning with understanding.

  4. Greed, hate and delusion. These are considered the three poisons in buddha dharma. Thanks for sharing this big think!

  5. While I can never subscribe to religion as a concept, I am always very respectful and sincerely impressed when you come across a person who, not just by their astounding skill and talent, but by looking into their eyes as they speak, convey an inner peace that if were felt in equal measure by every man, woman, and child on earth, you can be certain that greed, anger, and ignorance would be distant concepts of a bygone era.
    …but I am a hopelessly utopic sob sometimes.

  6. to me, the pig should represent greed more. ive worked with pigs. they can never have enough food and they will literally run you down to get it

  7. Those Asians.  That guy is nearly 90 and has less wrinkles than a white 50 year old.  He is so talented.  Great to see someone who is so old but so well spoken and keeping busy.

  8. Astounded by the artist design n the spiritual concept of the perceptive view over lifes patterns.

    Enjoyed the information. Thanks for sharing.

  9. It's interesting that the opposite of the snake=hatred, boar=ignorance, and the pidgeon/rooster=greed are, respectively love, knowledge, and abundance. Welcome to the 21st century.

  10. I always thought that, if I would turn any religion, it would be Buddhism.  It's a religion where the belief in a deity is entirely optional, as it really means little in the scope of things.  It's about self-enlightenment and the removal of corruption and suffering from one's life.

  11. The top comment says: "No matter what religion you are, you can never really hate on buddha" 
    Interesting, I distinctly remember a group of jihadi muslim in afghanistan blowing up a historically precious statue of buddha. 
    But of course – and as always – those weren't TRUE muslims …. yes yes yes, and we are back to square one. 

  12. This symbolism is not different just for the general public, but also for the majority of the Buddhists because this is part of the tradition of the Tibetan Buddhists which is just a part of all the Buddhists, so it is normal to be ignorant about this even if you are Buddhist of other traditions

  13. Very beautiful and expressive art indeed. The detail are so beautiful.
    On the philosophical side, I think that the three sources of pain can be made into two: ignorance and fear. Greed is caused by our fear of losing what we have, and anger/hate is caused by our ignorance and fear (of harm), ignorance about other people and things, and fear of what we are ignorant of lest it may harm us.

  14. That's the reason you are against my GOD. We are not required to come back to this earth, unless we are being punished by GOD. And it makes me sad, that you don't believe in the GOD, I do. You're such good guys!!

  15. When Losang visited the University of Texas at El Paso, I took refuge in the Sanga with him and was named Losang Chodron. Thank you. Many blessings from me!

  16. We are all immortal in the background radiation of our universe, all information stored in the apparent horizons of black holes, recycled, refined and redistributed. Infinite simulations in a coded, digital multiverse. Information is never destroyed, and that is all we are.

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