Mandalas: ‘as it is in the outer world, so too it is in the inner world’
In Tibetan Buddhism, a mandala - or kyil khor - is a complex representation of the universe and the correlation between the macrocosm (the outer world) and the microcosm (our own mind). With a rich symbology, it condenses various aspects of the Vajrayana teachings providing a detailed map for meditation that we can access through visualisation, following the path to
The Sanskrit meaning combines the concepts of ‘circle’ and ‘essence’, outlining its objective to extract the essence of the Buddha’s sutras. A mandala is in fact a tool that the practitioner can use by meditating on its allegorical images and colors, in order to develop inner peace and positive qualities.
Usually bidimensional, mandalas are a bird eye view over a deity’s celestial abode representing a pure land: a realm manifested by a Buddha or Bodhisattva upon reaching enlightenment.
In Tantric meditation we often abandon our ordinary appearance to ‘bring the result in the path’, visualising ourselves as the enlightened being. Likewise, by imagining a pure land we experience a pure environment: the enlightened mind.
Traditionally, the square palace is surrounded by a gorgeous landscape and sits on a double dorje foundation. It is encircled by four protecting layers that neutralise interferences and, in the centre, the deity is represented by a holy figure, a syllable or its symbol(s).
Most mandalas in our collection are based on the 5 Dhyani Buddha families, headed by the five Supreme Healers, also known as Wisdom Buddhas. The mandala is, in this case, divided into five colors, four oriented towards the four directions and the fifth located right in the centre, depending on the family of the deity that is inspiring the mandala.
‘The five elements that make up your body and the entire universe can exist together in either harmonious or destructive ways. Pay attention!’
Colors represent the qualities of the 5 Dyani Buddhas that we wish to develop through our practice, as well as the inner and outer elements that we will purify in order to reach enlightenment:
- Guru Buddha Vairochana, white in color, heals ignorance bringing Mirror-like Wisdom.
- Guru Buddha Amitabha, red in color, is the antidote to unlimited desire bestowing Discerning Wisdom and contentment.
- Guru Buddha Akshobhya, blue in color, eliminates anger and hatred with Dharmadhatu Wisdom, stability, love and compassion.
- Guru Buddha Ratnasambhava, yellow in color, fosters generosity, humbleness and Equanimity Wisdom against pride and miserliness.
- Guru Buddha Amoghasiddhi, green in color, averts fear and jealousy by blessing us with All-accomplishing Wisdom and joyful action.
‘Take a walk in the inner space of your heart and mind’
When visualising a mandala, we can imagine approaching an holographic, three dimensional palace, where all colors and images carry profound meanings.
The outer wisdom fire wheel purifies IGNORANCE, the opposite of a correct view of reality. Continuing inwards, the vajra fence is the indestructible compassion-like barrier against anger and HATRED.
In between this and the last one is a circle with the eight great charnel grounds, a clear reminder to the impermanent nature of samsara.
Last is the lotus ring with 64 petals signifying renunciation and contentment, the ability to recognise the real value of things that frees us from ATTACHMENT.
These barriers are meant to protect us from our own mental delusions, beside external disturbances. In fact, symbology and numbers refer to the chakras polluted by the three main poisons, that we have the opportunity to overcome by cultivating the three main qualities.
Between the fenced perimeter and the palace’s walls are scenes regarding the outer environment and the spiritual path. Symbols promote the benefits of the Dharma in our life. We encounter clouds, victory banners celebrating our triumph on negative emotions, a wish fulfilling tree - an important element in Tibetan mythology representing the Dharma as the way to peace and happiness.
The abode lays on a double dorje: the edges can be seen extending in the four directions, holding the four entrance gates - a reminder to the four Noble Truths.
We may also find two deers facing a Dharma wheel, another fundamental icon in Tibetan Buddhism representing the female and male energy, the union of method and wisdom, and the Buddha's teachings.
Each architectural element of the palace has a specific reference to Tantric teachings and practice. The inner wall, for example, is outlined by 5 colored stripes, the five powers - or strengths - at the base of our spiritual path: faith, perseverance, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom.
The center of the mandala is generally adorned with petals, recalling the 8 petaled lotus flower at our heart chakra, where the deity sits in union with us.
‘With your heart full of love you can heal the world’
In Tibetan Buddhism mandalas are re-created in several ways: from sand mandalas, to stupa mandalas and 3D models.
Probably the most well-known walk-through mandala is the monumental stupa of Borobudur, in Indonesia, the world’s largest Buddhist temple.
Renovated by UNESCO in the ‘70, it is a pilgrimage destination representing the universe and the mind according to the Buddhist view and a large-scale Tantric mandala. Lama Gangchen Rinpoche’s NgalSo Tantric Self-Healing is a practice inspired by the stupa of Borobudur.
We have seen that the word mandala means in Sanskrit taking something out of the essence.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, the practice of mandala offering consists in a ritual where the universe and all its wealth are offered to the Guru and to the Three Jewels as an homage and an act of veneration.
The mandala offering is part of the preliminary practices and is itself a form of purification that also generates an incredible amount of merits, hence positive energy.
It is performed reciting Sanskrit mantras, either accompanied by hand mudras holding a mala or using the mandala set. This kit includes a flat bowl, 3 concentric rings and a diadem that are progressively filled upwards with grains of rice in pyramidal shape.
Here, again, the mandala is a symbolic representation of the purified world and its most valuable things. The visualisation follows Tibetan culture, with Mount Meru as the centre of the cosmos, surrounded by water, the continents, the Sun and the Moon.
" This ground anoited with perfume, strewn with flowers, adorned with Mount Mero, the four continents, the sun and moon, I visualise and offer as a pure land of the buddhas. May all sentient beings thus enjoy this pure land" (Guru Puja, - Mandala Offering)
All quotes are from H.H. T.Y.S. Lama Gangchen’s ‘Crazy Wisdom Oracle’