MY FAVORITE THING about the compassion mandala created this week at the Menil from grains of colored sand by a band of Buddhist monks to honor the legacy of Gandhi was not the sound their silver scoops made when they scraped them together, coaxing out small streams of sand. It wasn’t the way they curled their bodies into balls — legs crossed, backs bent — to position their scoops with precision as they hovered over their co-creation, upside-down Michelangelos, adding sand from an aerial perspective. It wasn’t the exactitude of their linework. It wasn’t the finishing touch, white sand sprinkled like sugar over a patch of baby blue waves in one corner of their cosmic diagram. And it wasn’t the moment the robed monk stood and, having frosted the blue waves white, snapped a photo of the mandala with his smartphone, and we knew it was finally complete.
My favorite thing about the compassion mandala was the circle of people which grew larger around it as the week progressed, as the mandala itself grew larger. I’m talking schoolchildren by the busful. We were drawn in by their curious chanting and their wizard-like techniques. Little did we know, even though the sand would never touch us and we would never touch the sand, that we would become, all the same, a part of the art, and the art would become a part of us too. Brutality begets brutality. Torture begets torture. My favorite thing about the compassion mandala was how contagious it was.