A Vivid Presence

I just got word that my friend, Thrinley diMarco passed away, on Sunday, April 12, on San Juan Island. She was 83. I’m very sad. When i read this, for one instant i thought i should call her up and say, Hey, Thrinley, did you hear about your dying?! The news was so absurd and you would just want to tell her something of such import. She was just so present, a vivid soul. She was also a supporter of my work, in the sense of moral support, for decades would often send a little email reply to say, Wonderful! or something like that, when she got one of my email newsletters. And once in awhile we had very deep talks.

Thrinley, San Juan Island

We had some things in common–she was a real communicator, and as the caretaker/manager of the temple on the island (Sakya Kachod Choling), was the glue and engine for that Buddhist community for many, many years. I know that it wasn’t just me for whom she was supportive, but can imagine that everyone up there was the recipient of her warmth, confidence-instilling, cheerleading…which came from deep within her, somewhere around her solar plexus–you could just feel that viscerally, like she was implanting this same engine within you.

At the same time, she was an equal friend. She was capable of sharing her own deep feelings and stories from her life that illustrated lessons that she learned along the way, including mistakes that she had made. But with her perspective you could see how wonderful it is to be human, to be capable of also making mistakes, and yet to see it as part of joining the human race, with all our foibles…and with all the beauty.

What a wonderful artist, too. Pottery, collage, etc. The tiny house she built for her retirement, while in her later 70s was gorgeous. Not long ago, just last fall, she had it moved from that steep hillside next to the temple, down near town onto her son’s property. I was so glad, kind of relieved, as i can imagine were all her friends and family… And she had six children! She was of Italian descent, and part of that dynamism seemed to spring from that, too.

The last time i saw her was probably last summer, in the post office in Friday Harbor. She was with her sister who was visiting from out of town. We were SO happy to run into each other, and so we sat for awhile on a bench and talked. She had grown incredibly frail, incredibly fast, which had that jarring effect, of waking up (once again) to the impermanence of life. Even Thrinley…

Oh gosh, this has been a year for me of losing people who feel like personal supporters–in a variety of ways. Last summer five old friends, all extraordinary men, died, who i had been close to, one of them like a brother, all of them respected my work and capabilities. My mother-in-law, Margi gone, too, though it felt different because she had already been on her way for quite some time. I guess this is what it’s like to edge up to our own cliff of life and death. One begins losing people, and then we’re out here on our own, in a way, hopefully capable of standing strong in our own core of confidence, cheering others on…

om mani peme hung

Mandala: Visualizing the Spiritual Dimension

Mandala means circle in Sanskrit. The flat drawings that we normally see are meant as maps of the three-dimensional universe, or even multiverse, in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology.

Mandalas have arisen in the world’s spiritual traditions, from the calendars of the Mayans to the Persian symbol of the sun, or the Celtic cross. In Christianity, they appear in walkable labyrinths, or stained glass windows of ancient cathedrals. Mandalas are found in nature: think of flowers, or the cross-section of a tree trunk, a conch shell, the iris of an eye, or a snowflake.

The earliest Buddhist mandalas appeared in India around 200 CE, and spread to other Asian countries, including Tibet. In Tibetan Buddhism the Mandala represents the sacred essence of the universe, or the enlightened mind. It is an outward manifestation of inner spiritual dimensions, using color, form and sacred geometry. The Mandala is a tool through which philosophical and religious principles are passed from teacher to student over generations.

The Tibetan mandala is an exquisite form of ritual art. Every intricate detail carries deep symbolic meaning. The form often appears as concentric circles around a perfect square, representing a four-sided temple containing the essence of the Buddha or other deities. Each deity has a corresponding mandala constructed of specific shapes and colors. The Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara’s mandala, for example, appears differently from one for Manjushri, Buddha of Wisdom.

Medicine Buddha Sand Mandala, Bellingham, Washington, 2019

Each mandala detail represents precise parts of a palace, including cornices, columns, lintels, etc. The mandala is inhabited. At the center resides the main deity, and around the circular perimeter is a row of protector deities. The four sides have entranceways through which the deity is approached. The mandala is divided into four sections that correspond to the four directions, indicated by its characteristic color. The center makes a fifth direction. Blue in the east; yellow south; red west; green north; and white at the center. (Sometimes blue and white are switched.)

In contemplative meditation, the Mandala can serve to focus and calm the mind. At other times, practitioners may visualize the symbolic representation of the pure land of that deity, or pure essence of the enlightened mind. This is meant to cultivate one’s inner spiritual qualities and the potential to achieve an enlightened state.

Mandalas are created as offerings to bless and heal the world and all its inhabitants. They are also a profound teaching on impermanence—a central principle of Buddhist philosophy. Although some Mandala art is preserved in sacred paintings, practitioners create mandalas of sand and other materials that are then dissolved and returned to nature. From creation through dissolution, the Sand Mandala is a beautiful dance illustrating the impermanence of all things.

Thanks to Marcia Meyers for contributing to this piece, and to Brian Hodel for the title. Copies were handed out at the Kilung Foundation’s 2019 “Prayer for the Earth: Tibetan Sand Mandala Exhibit.”