Philadelphia is hurting. With a record number of homicides over the last few years, the violence and death are giving rise to unspeakable pain, sorrow, and worry for so many in the historic city. This is why Lama Losang Samten, founder and Spiritual Director of the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center in Philadelphia, began work on the rare and sacred Guhyasamaja Mandala on October 30, 2022: to offer prayers of peace, unity, and harmony.

In 1959, Ven. Samten fled Tibet with his family, and, in 1985, he earned a master’s degree from Namgyal Monastery in Buddhist philosophy, sutras, and tantra. Ven. Samten is also a master of ritual dance and sand mandalas. He served as the Dalai Lama’s personal attendant for eight years before His Holiness asked him, in 1988, to go to the United States to demonstrate the art of sand mandalas. Ven. Samten has been creating mandalas in North America ever since.

Photo courtesy the author

Tantric Buddhists use mandalas as aids for visualization during meditation. The intricate designs represent two or three-dimensional structures containing various buddhas, bodhisattvas, and ritual items. Meditators invoke the power of the residing awakened beings to similarly gain control over their own minds. Often highly complex and requiring many weeks to finish, sand mandalas are swept away during a closing ritual, and the sand is cast into a river to spread the merit generated by the mandala. 

Ven. Samten told me that the Guhyasamaja Mandala is among the most powerful mandalas for the promotion of peace and unity, and has been created only a couple of times in the United States since the 1980s. Few people in the world know how to create this most sacred mandala, and Ven. Samten indicated this would most likely be the last time he does one.

Photo courtesy the author

He dedicated the mandala to the people of Philadelphia, to the people who are no longer in this life with him, to those who died from COVID-19, and to families struggling with economic insecurity and war.

On the morning of October 30, members of the Chenrezig Center gathered to bless each line of the mandala’s outline and to offer prayers. The sound of the ceremonial bell and of Ven. Samten’s deep chanting filled the temple with a palpable hope for a more perfect union. 

The mandala will take several weeks to complete, and anyone is invited to stop by the temple or participate via Zoom to offer their prayers and support. Ven. Samten will work daily from 12 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. (except November 10) until November 23, and will offer time for questions during breaks. No registration is required to attend in person. The mandala-making will be streamed live via Zoom from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on dates found on the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center’s website. During those windows, Ven. Samten will speak to online guests to recap the day’s progress and answer questions. Registration is required for Zoom participation. The closing ceremony will be November 27. Further details and registration information can be found here on the Chenrezig Center’s website.

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