Minecraft and Materialism Part 2

Hello again people and thank you for reading my second installment of the Minecraft Mandala Project! I know this post is a little late, but I had a bout of illness and had to do a few administrative things on my SMP server over the weekend. If you are interested in joining up and playing with me and some of the other fine people there, go to mc2923.servercraft.co:1447 . It is a relatively new map so now would be the time to join in. But let’s start things off with some numbers.

First things first, I would need to build a frame around my intended building space. This was so I would know where to build, what area I needed to clear/level out, and to establish a grid system so I knew what blocks went where. I calculated last time that the Mandala had a 302 block diameter. So for my frame I made each side 310 blocks long to give me a bit of wiggle room and to round off further calculations. I chose to build my frame over the ocean as much as I could to lessen the amount of clearing I would have to do later. With my location chosen it was time to strike the earth.

I didn’t think to render a cartograph map before I started. But pictured above is my world and one side of the frame completed. Counting that many blocks gets confusing fast. Wait was that 252 or 253.. FFFUUUU~ Now I have to go recount them all again. So I instituted the short lived Torches for Counting program. I would place a torch every ten blocks , then all I would have to do when I lost count would be to go back and count the torches, multiply by ten then add the remainder. But this didn’t solve the fact that I still had to run the entire length of an edge when I lost count. That’s when I decided to use signs. Place them every 10 blocks and label what number it was.

While I was laying my frame and digging through some rather unfortunately placed mountains I felt a twang of guilt. If you remember from my last installment, one of the things I enjoy most in Minecraft is the scenery and terrain.

Far from the noisy cities and busy roads, sometimes it feels you are able to sense the breath of nature and sense history, even be a part of it. To stop time and motion, while gazing upon ancient mounds and majestic rocks, fathomless skies, endless valleys, swift rivers and sharp mountains. How long have they been here? How long have you been here? Was anyone else ever here? But now that you are here, what do you do?

I decide to carve large tunnels in them, making my world ugly. And it wasn’t like I was doing this for a good cause or for resources. I was scarring the beautiful landscape so that I could build something and then destroy it. Even though I knew there weren’t any cute critters, I couldn’t help but image me destroying the homes of squirrels and bunnies. Was this something that Buddhism would condone? I didn’t know the official stance on this, but I rationalized that this needed to be done for the sake of the project.

Seven hours of tunneling and block placing later I had gone through 2 Diamond Picks and Shovels and I was finally matching my 3rd and 4th side up. I had been placing my blocks while walking backwards for optimal efficiency. I placed my last block and turned around to survey my work.

After 30 minutes and one game crash, I had finished correcting the error. All in all the frame took me about 8 hours to complete.

I don’t think you truly can appreciate the scale of this until you walk around the perimeter. It takes me 1 minute and 13 seconds to walk a single side, and 4 minutes and 52 seconds to walk around the whole perimeter. 310×310 is REALLY big. I don’t think I even understood how big I was talking when I decided to undertake the project. Several times I found myself marveling at just the sheer magnitude. To fill out my frame I needed to place 96,000 blocks of wool. The design itself is just under 72,000 blocks. But before I could start placing my wool I needed to clear out all the land in the frame.

From my base of operations there was a small sandy island nearby. It would be my first test subject for methods of clearing land. I hacked and clawed at the dirt for about two hours with Diamond tools and I was making very little noticeable progress. Next on the list was TNT. Fortunately I already had a stack of that laying around for another project I wanted to try. Once the stack had been carefully and meticulously placed it started the chain reaction, and ended up with a little divet.

But instead of seeing progress, I saw me making the world ugly again. No longer was I carving neat precise channels, I was blowing chunks out of the earth. Chunks that couldn’t be fixed later. Yes I could clear the land to build my Mandala but once it was over I would have a 96,000 block eyesore. Tibetan Buddhism preaches peace, tranquility, and harmony. And they know that on this material plane destruction is inevitable. I was lucky enough to hear the Dalai Lama speak once. It was a fantastic experience I hope to repeat some day. There was a particular phrase he said, and it stuck with me. “Love. If you cannot love, then tolerate. If you cannot tolerate then at least do no harm.”

The destruction I was causing was unacceptable within the project scope. This was not destruction for a good purpose. There had to be another way. I did some rough calculations on how many blocks I would have to remove to flatten out this space. Just over 2 million blocks would have to be removed. There was no way I was going to cause that kind of destruction and feel like I learned anything about myself or the mentality of the Mandala.

It was around this time that players on my SMP server got wind of what I was up to. I was offered help by many of them. Most didn’t realize that I was doing this in single player and were having problems finding my construction site.Others were asking me to move it over to the SMP server and then we could all work on it. Generally I got the feeling that they didn’t get the point behind it. They wanted the fame and glory of being a part of a massive project. They weren’t interested in the self discovery and the destruction of pride. I told them that building it on SMP would defeat the purpose. One player said this to me: “I dont think it defeats the purpose. Isn’t the idea you’re going to waste a bunch of time building this massive structure only to destroy it?”

Was this really all a waste of time? Is that what people view this as? That I am sequestering myself off to complete something that has no tangible value and serves no function to others? That statement resonated within myself and made me reevaluate my motives. Why exactly am I doing this? I started the project with the intention of self discovery and understanding some of the principles and mindsets of the Mandala process. But I have to admit, I did want some fame out of it. As far as I know, no one has attempted to build a Mandala let alone one of this scale. That pride and quest for fame and glory was something I was going to have to conquer. I am sure this is something all early monks must overcome. To be humble in every way, to make a beneficial impact on the world without the world knowing who did it. To show people a path but ultimately let them decide for themselves.

Millions of people on this planet revere the Tibetan monks for one aspect or another. Their tranquility, dedication, and culture only to name a few. It must be easy to be swept up in the wave of adoration and praise others pour on them. Somehow they find a way to deal with it. If they fell victim to pride then they would no longer be on the path. I am going to have to find some way to overcome this too. I tried to explain to my players the best I could what my intentions were and what I hoped to accomplish. Sadly a quest of self discovery must be walked alone. I still had much to learn and many questions to answer for myself.

One of the easier ones was “How am I going to build this without massive land destruction?”. The answer? Build it in the sky. I built sand pillars at the corners of my frame, and built the sky frame out of glass. I moved the frame to layer 60 above sea level. That would give me some room to build and move around without getting caught on the ceiling. And since I am building it in the sky it doesn’t make much sense to fill in the frame. Anything but glass you can’t see through from the bottom, and I didn’t need a floor to keep wool blocks from falling.

I’ve been collecting resources I would need as I ran across them. Flowers, ink, and wool, mostly. I have more wool and flowers right now than I have ever collected on any server combined. But still it isn’t nearly enough. I can manage the wool collection. It is going to take me a long time to do but it is possible. I may need to convert my monster trap into an animal farm to accelerate things. The flowers may be a show stopper for the Mandala. Flowers in this game are random spawn, and appear in small clusters. Hence, they are rare. And to make things worse you cant grow more of them. You have to hope and pray that there will be some flowers of the right color and that you will stumble upon them. The only way I can see how to get them is to cheat.

I have been staunchly against cheating and inventory editing. Any cheating would cheapen my efforts and marginalize my successes. And once I start, it will be hard to stop, and once I stop no one will believe it. Due to the limitations in game, I may have to. Unless I can find a mod that allows for growing flowers. I will hopefully have found an answer to my predicament that doesn’t involve cheating in my next installment. Next installment, look forward to me plotting a grid on my “blueprint”, finding a way to get all of the rare dye I need, and the first blocks placed of the Mandala.

Part one can be found here

Part three can be found here


  1. John Wilkinson

    If you wish to conquer your desire for fame… why not consider NOT publishing your efforts on the internet?

  2. Grant French

    Simply because it is published doesn’t mean I am going to generate fame. The Monks who make these Mandalas in real life allow people to watch and record and take photos of their work and process. The Mandala isn’t a secret. If you would like watch some videos of the ceremonies on youtube. They are really fascinating.

    Somehow the Monks are able to balance the attention and respect they receive with being humble and grounded. That is what I need to learn how to do.

  3. Wilkin Lorentz

    I think this is a great idea! Minecraft is essentially the ultimate game of “things”, in which all the world exists to provide you with resources so you can build monuments to your own vanity, and this is a very interesting take on that sort of experience. I, too, sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by the ego of it all, but my coping mechanism is to start a new world, and wander endlessly on Peaceful, day and night, just seeing the wonderful world and enjoying harmony with it.

    On a rather more material note, you may be interested to know that using dye on a sheep colors it, and when you punch it, the wool that comes off is dyed. Therefore, you’ve already got a good chance of getting 2 or 3 wool per flower, and if you pen the sheep up (staying online and nearby to ensure that they don’t despawn), I’m fairly sure that the wool will grow back dyed, and you can harvest it again. In this way, one flower may be stretched to become many blocks of colored wool.

  4. Broseph

    To be honest, I’m not sure if you completely understand either. I feel like you gave up building it on land simply because It is harder. Sure it is “destruction”, but it’s just in a video game. The creation aspect is real because it does take time and work, but destorying land to make room for the creation is all part of the process. You copped out, and you are attention whoring. You are not a monk. Monks may allow people to view them, but don’t go on the internet and actively tell the world. You are probably some suburban white kid who read a few books and feels “enlightened”. Please stop.

  5. Grant French

    I am sorry you feel that way, and I assure you that your aspersions upon my character and my background are far from being correct.

    Love. If you cannot love, then tolerate. If you cannot tolerate, then at least do no harm.

    • Ten Neals

      Not to make you start all over, but I don’t see why the construction can conform to the topology of the land.

      Sure, you could waste a bunch of time drilling through mountains, but couldn’t you just as easily spend the time to account for elevation change? It would be more in line with your goals (probably), though you would have to clear cut the trees. But those are minor inconveniences, saplings grow fully after a day.

  6. OPHumanShield

    Keep up the good work, man. This is exactly the type of higher-order thinking that is absent in a lot of gaming, on the sides of both players and developers. The whole ‘it’s just a game man, chill’ attitude is rather pathetic, because it undermines the ability of the medium to aspire to something greater.

    Obviously games are fun; we wouldn’t be playing them otherwise. But shouldn’t we be embracing the fact that games like Minecraft actually have the power to make us ask these sorts of questions? To promote this kind of reflection?

    What’s that? STFU newb and GTFO? Yeah, sounds about right.

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