A mandala is a ritual diagram that serves as an object of meditation in tantra and Varjayana Buddhism. It is symbolic of the universe. Around the eleventh century, mandala meditation was introduced in Tibet from India and even today, lamas pass on their knowledge to initiates in the same way. Mandalas are constructed at the background of a puja, out of grains of coloured sand carefully placed on a specially prepared platform. They are temporary structures and in a teaching of impermanence, are deliberately destroyed at the end of the ritual, their sand swept up and poured into a nearby stream of river.
The word Mandala is derived from the rood manda, essence; and la, container. Thus, a mandala is a container of essence. As an image, it may symbolise both the mind and the body of the Buddha. The origin of the mandala is the centre, the bindu, a dot – a symbol free of dimensions. Bindu also means, seed, sperm or drop – the salient starting point. It is the gathering centre into which outside energies are drawn, and in the act of drawing in the forces, the devotee’s own energies unfold. In the process, the mandala is consecrated to a deity.
In its creation, a line meterialises out of a dot. Other lines are drawn until they intersect, creating triangular geometrical patterns. The circle drawn around stands for the dynamic consciousness of the initiated. The outlying square symbolizes the physical world bound in four directions, and represented by the four gates; and the central area is the deity. The centre being visualized as the essence, and the circumference as grasping, a mandala thus signifies a grasping of the essence.
All monks in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are required to learn how to construct mandalas. They have to memorise texts that specify names, lengths and positions of the primary lines defining the basic structure of mandalas, as well as the techniques of drawing and pouring but rather serve as mnemonic guides to the complete forms that must be learned from the repeated practice of construction under the guidance of experienced monks.
Source: “Mandala: Cosmic Diagram,” from BUDDHISM: on the path to nirvana (book), by Swati Chopra
Photo courtesy of Cea.’s