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The lessons of the Sand Mandala: What can you do with a billion that you can’t do with a hundred million?

In my meditations this morning, I reflected on the Sand Mandala, an ancient sacred practice of sand painting done by Buddhists – Tibetan Buddists in particular. I learnt that the sand mandala is an intricate focus of meditation that monks train in, sometimes for as long as five years. The practice is meant to guide those who aspire to enlightenment by purifying and healing their minds, transforming them from the ordinary into the enlightened.

All of this is made painstakingly with coloured powder.

Mandalas (Sanskrit for circle) are cosmic maps charting the succession of initiations from the historical Buddha 2600 years ago to the present day. In Tibetan tradition, Mandalas are usually created from coloured sand laid on to a geometrical blueprint and constitute a ritual in their own right.

How much of this four hour video could you watch of this Mandala being created?

“Never be married to inanimate objects”

Peter Nduati, Founder CEO, Resolution Insurance

In my reflections, I thought about how much we are having to be okay to do without during this COVID-19 period. Many of us have to stay home and take significant precautions.

Think about it: when did you last go window shopping? When did you last have an impulse buy whatever your addiction is? For some it is clothes, for others it is shoes and yet there are those who spend all their spare money on gadgets. Many of us would have taken off to some other city or country when wanderlust strikes.

Restaurants remain closed as the COVID-19 bites the economy.

Eating out has been seriously curtailed. People aren’t going to restaurants, bars and night clubs as they ordinarily would. In fact, even coffee connoisseurs have had more money in their pockets as they cut back on their regular fix of some exotic concoction – that caramel ice latte with skimmed milk has had to wait.

I have a friend called Jared, who does a remarkable job finding and arranging deals for car purchase in Mombasa. If you wanted a great car you can afford and you wanted to have some easy payment terms, this former banker is a great person to know.

I learnt recently from Jared that car sales have plummeted these past few months as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on business and people’s finances. Many people who had planned to buy a new car this year have put those plans on hold (even if they have the money) to wait out the economic slump. This is no time to buy anything major.

Here’s what my main reflection is: I have to be conscious that in the larger scheme of things, many of the things that we work hard so that we have money so that we can buy, are on the whole, useless. We do not need them.

I look often at corrupt politicians working hard so that they position themselves in front of more power so that they can do that backroom deal that will get them 10% of the multibillion project that is funded by some other country and the question occurs to me:

What can you (personally) do with a billion shillings that you can’t do with a hundred million shillings?

The truth is that from a lifestyle perspective, there is a place where it plateaus. So you have the mansion and the cars, the palace in shags with the thoroughbred horses, the beach house at the coast with the yacht. Then what?

I remember my grandmother told me about an industrialist in Uganda, named Muljibhai Madhvani, who among other things sold the popular mint sweet “Tropical” since the 70s. He owned the Madhvani Conglomerate. Legend has it that he once bought a bed, made of pure gold for his bedroom in all his houses.

“He could only sleep in one bed at a time,” remarked my grandmother, “and he farted just like everyone does when they are asleep.”

Once completed, each sand mandala is ritualistically dismantled – all that intricate work is destroyed. This process and its result┬ásymbolise Buddhists’ belief in the impermanence of material life.

Buddhists aspire to be liberated from all attachments to objects and beings on the material plane or in the visible world. According to this tradition, the world we can perceive with our eyes is but a dream and reality is to be found inside and only accessed by means of meditation.

There are lessons here for us on life. All these intricate things that we acquire are often as effervescent as the intricate coloured sands of the Mandala – just fantastic memories.



I am first an foremost a writer who cares deeply about the world. I enjoy stories - especially history for its rich tapestry of stories of people's lives interwoven intricately in failures and victories. I care so deeply about the world that I also spend much of my time and energy trying to make it better in some way.


Check out my book, Living Memories on Amazon