Creating the Vajra Dance Mandala at Zhenphenling, Rome

Some Reflections

creating vajradance mandala zhenphenling

Creating the Mandala of the Vajra Dance is a precious and demanding practice: it is about making the vision of the Master’s dream material. There is nothing to invent or create, everything is already there, very precisely: drawings, measurements, proportions, colors. It is just a matter of offering your services and working.

Our Teacher also taught us how to work: it was enough to observe and remember his gestures. Whatever he did, even the simplest everyday task, like opening a package or sorting out his papers, his gestures were perfect, essential, harmonious, in short, beautiful. Everything flowed from his pure presence, without effort. When I worked on the Mandala I had that teaching inside me, even though it took me some effort, at times a lot. In my movements I practiced rigor, attention, precision, concentration, but all of this was still subject to effort. It was a practice of concentration and presence, which can lead to a few moments of pure presence without effort.

creating vajradance mandala zhenphenling

1. The compass

Another teaching that applies when working on the Mandala is “doing your best according to the circumstances”. In this case the circumstances are the concrete objects with which we work: the support for the Mandala, the colors, the humidity of the place, etc. If you visualize the Mandala with your eyes closed, you are in a dimension of pure light. But if you have to bring it to the ground and walk on it, you’re dealing with matter. And the matter is concrete, has its characteristics and imposes its limits on you.

creating vajradance mandala zhenphenling

2. The tape

I’ll just mention one example of a problem that we faced: the problem of transparency. If you paint colors on a white background, they retain all their qualities. In this case, you appreciate the strength of the energy of each color, but accept them in all their material qualities. If you want to get closer to the light, you try to work with the transparency of the color and hence you dilute it. But transparency has its limits. The yellow-beige of the parquet floor conditions and modifies the colors, and modifies them even more, the more you spread the diluted color, to let you see the wood: what is gained in transparency is lost in color quality. In addition, the wooden floor is a living material, and over time you know it will transform and tend to darken. The first to lose its color is the yellow, which will lose its light. You have to take into account several factors and try to find the balance between color, parquet and transparency. In addition, applying colors diluted with a certain transparency is much more complicated: when using tempera you can correct a mistake, while here it is like with watercolor, everything can be seen and cannot be corrected. It takes a more experienced hand and a lot of concentration. This has an effect on collaboration.

The ability to collaborate is, in fact, another important point of our Master’s teaching and is obviously also put to the test in the construction of the Mandala. Collaboration cannot be impromptu and confused, but requires awareness of the capacities of those who wish to collaborate in order for the Mandala to have a good result.

It is always the Mandala that commands and every moment of the work is equally important, from the construction with the compass to the calculations, from drawing to painting, from erasing to applying tape. Putting the tape on the boundary lines is very important and is not simple given the curve of the lines. But if one makes a mistake, the tape can be removed and replaced. If one makes a mistake with transparent painting, it cannot be remedied. The collaboration took into account all these circumstances.

creating vajradance mandala zhenphenling

3. Painting

And then you have to come to terms with the attachment and gratification of the ego. As you work you get more and more attached to that floor where you spend hours kneeling, the smell of those colors, the excitement when you take off the tape and there are no smudges, and when you start to see the vision spreading out on the floor sparkling with the first rays of gold, you are really tired yet satisfied with the final point of arrival. But when everything is really over and you close the door behind you, you feel a little dizzy and wonder what your days will be without the Mandala. This is attachment, like on the nights when you woke up thinking about the Mandala.

But the worst is yet to come, when others arrive. If they don’t say anything, you feel bad: your ego is wounded. If they say “good” you still feel bad: you feel your ego getting stronger and that’s no good.
And so? The only thing is to observe all these emotions and thoughts and free them, let go of everything, together with the Mandala.

The greatest thanks to our Master who offered us the possibility of this experience. Thanks also to all those who collaborated, in whatever form and moment, to the creation of the Zhenphenling Mandala.

By Daniela Monaci


Making the Mandala

creating vajradance mandala zhenphenling

4. Tools for working

Materials: a compass, pencils, erasers, masking tape, scraps of cloth, sponges, cans, paper towels, brushes, plastic basins, colors. Knee pads or cushions.

Requirements: collaboration, precision, patience, listening, observation, dialectics, silence, open eyes. We should remember that we are in a sacred space, the gift of the Master, and we work with attention, awareness, love, and collaboration.

Preparation: the design, the first dimension
The design is the base, the structure, the DNA of the Mandala.
We start with the compass, which we have previously built. We place a square base of heavy metal that does not move at the center of the future Mandala, with a central pivot into which the compass radius is inserted, whose length depends on the size of the Mandala chosen. Ours was 4 meters.
The radius is a metal rod, in which, in correspondence with each circle to be traced, we have made holes to insert the pencils.
Carefully slide the rod round in a circle until all the circles are drawn.
Now it’s time to draw the center of the Mandala with the inner triangles, from which the rays will start. This is the most delicate moment: the calculations must be very precise, because a difference of a few millimeters in the center will become a difference of several centimeters on the outer edge, given the width of the circumference. The word approximation is banned.

creating vajradance mandala zhenphenling

5. At work

Masking tape
A less important job? No. We are entering the second dimension of the Mandala.
If you make a mistake in outlining the design, a color will overlap and spoil the next color. We do not want this to happen. The advantage is that at this stage an error can be corrected.
You do the outer edge by pulling the tape and making it stick with one hand, pressing it well along the entire perimeter. The more you enter the circle the more the circumference decreases and the more complicated the work gets. You have to proceed with small steps or with small pieces making sure that between one piece of tape and another there is no overlapping that might mix up the borders. The most important thing is buy good masking tape and apply it well, not making the pieces too small.
It is work that can be done in a group and is a good job to share. We work in several steps because we cannot paint the Mandala in one go, but in different phases, entering and exiting the circles and the triangles, along the rays to the center. We have to consider the times for the colors to dry well, hence external factors and circumstances of time and seasonal humidity have to be considered in order to put the tape on the parts already painted and to work on the neighboring ones
As soon as we have outlined the areas we are going to paint, we have to remember to indicate the colors for the spaces with a bit of tape, a very useful visual reminder because distraction is always lying in wait.

The third dimension: erasing the pencil marks
We are in the lead up to the fourth dimension, therefore eyes increasingly open and knees on the ground. We are working on the defining details and the most boring work, but only apparently. Erasing the traces of pencil that mark the boundaries is not only manual work. It is a great opportunity to practice careful purification. We cancel and purify present and future karma.

creating vajradance mandala zhenphenling

6. Removing the tape

The fourth dimension: light and colors.
This is the most complicated phase, that of necessary presence, now nothing can be postponed or corrected because everything is perfect. But since we are not and we must work with external circumstances, our capacities, our senses, our ego and our fears, the materials, and the support that changes from time to time, there is a lot of tension, many expectations from ourselves and others.

The choice of colors: the most complicated choice. More than a month of research, internal and external in which, through obstacles and tests of tenacity, we come to define what seems to us the most compatible solution with our center, where we have a straw-colored parquet floor and we want to work with a certain transparency.
We choose watercolors, but with natural, non-toxic resins.
We then have to understand the adherence, transparency, and dilution for a final result that is difficult to predict. We do a small color test but there is a very different effect when the painted surface is very large. It starts with a certain risk and everything is defined during the work, through continuous adjustments. However many plans you do before, the end result is all in the movement, in the painting, in the gestures, the calmness, the breathing, and the attention.
Predicting our potential errors of distraction is essential, so arm yourself with a basin where you can put all your work tools: sponges, colors and brushes, antistatic cloths to remove dust that is constantly deposited on the surface. Under and around the basin use a big piece of cardboard to protect the floor.
Careful, we are not working with opaque paints, but with transparencies. Coordinate with others on the dilutions and not: if your hand is not steady and the dilutions are not balanced, the color goes out of focus and everything will be conditioned, raised in tone, covered, with a dull look. So, we need a lot of patience, a lot of listening. Reflect, look, and always look back, a foot in the color that has just been applied is a danger to even the most tested and careful painter! Prevention by preparing our range of action will help us to be careful but also relaxed, without spending unnecessary energy to correct mistakes, sometimes very dangerous, such as dripping a color on the floor.
The use of the vacuum cleaner before applying the color is always advisable, indeed necessary, otherwise small lumps of different substances, especially pieces of rubber that we have just used, will affect the fluidity of the painting.
Work every day, so make sure that people are available for painting, because it is not a job that can be done in your spare time. It is better not to have too many different people working because it is already difficult to manage the work, to understand how to give color, to stay consistent in the painting. Looking at the work of others and advising him/her to understand if you have the same fluidity, the Mandala must be balanced, in its final form.

creating vajradance mandala zhenphenling

7. Removing the tape

Conclusion: the attachment phase
We have finished painting. We remove the tape and what a pleasure! Everything is perfect! And also help! We’ve gone over the line in some places. We don’t get discouraged because we can correct it without becoming obsessive. Difficult but possible.
We have to detach ourselves from the Mandala and get closer, correct the small overlaps or gaps that make the areas appear confused, a question of centimeters or millimeters, but remaining in total vision, otherwise the ego that does not want to detach itself from the Mandala adopts the most subtle strategies to nail you even in the invisible.
Consult with your travel companion to see where he/she has worked, exchange visions, always, once the floor is polished nothing can be corrected. Perfection is impossible but the work must be done with total dedication.
We have finished. Depending on the type of parquet, there will be finishing and polishing to do, and we do not know how the vision will change, but it is time to say goodbye and deliver the dimension to others, who will enter the Master’s dream and the light of the Mandala.
A huge thank you for having been able to participate in this wonderful practice.

By Flaminia Lizzani

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