Mandalas are very beautiful. They come in various shapes, sizes, and colors.
Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle,” but is also referred to as sacred art with religious significance. They are described as being symbolic representations of the Universe, complete within itself, with every part being an expression of the Whole.
The basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four gates, containing a circle with a central point. Each gate is in the shape of the letter T. In Vajrayana Buddhism, which is a Tibetan teaching, mandalas are also created in the exquisite media of sand paintings.
Practitioners of meditation have used Mandalas for centuries. Employed as a teaching tool, an aid for meditation (the object of contemplation/concentration), or to establish a sacred space, spiritual aspirants the world over marvel in their beauty and efficacy.
All monks at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries are required to learn how to construct mandalas as part of their training
There are four main types of traditional Mandalas.
1. The Maha-Mandala:
The Maha (great) Mandala depicts our entire universe, replete with images of human beings living in harmony with each other, and an interdependent cosmos.
2. Samaya Mandala:
Samaya is a Sanskrit word that means vow. These Mandalas usually portray spiritual adherents (buddhas to be) in allegiance to the sublime quest. Human bodies may be in a yoga posture (Mudra), or holding flowers, or grasping other objects signifying their vow.
3. Dharma Mandala:
Dharma in Sanskrit means teaching. The passage of knowledge to the student can consist of the sacred names of Buddha, and sutras – educational literary compositions.
Here is the “Eight Great Awakenings Sutra,”
Buddhist Disciples! At all times, day and night, sincerely recite and bear in mind these eight truths that cause great people to awaken.
The First Awakening: The world is impermanent. Countries are perilous and fragile. The body is a source of pain, ultimately empty. The five skandhas are not the true self. Life and Death is nothing but a series of transformations—hallucinatory, unreal, uncontrollable. The intellect is a wellspring of turpitude, the body a breeding ground of offenses. Investigate and contemplate these truths. Gradually break free of death and rebirth.
The Second Awakening: Too much desire brings pain. Death and rebirth are wearisome ordeals, originating from our thoughts of greed and lust. By lessening desires we can realize absolute truth and enjoy peace, freedom, and health in body and mind.
The Third Awakening: Our minds are never satisfied or content with just enough. The more we obtain, the more we want. Thus we create offenses and perform evil deeds. Bodhisattvas don’t wish to make these mistakes. Instead, they choose to be content. They nurture the Way, living a quiet life in humble surroundings—their sole occupation, cultivating wisdom.
The Fourth Awakening: Idleness and self-indulgence are the downfall of people. With unflagging vigor, great people break through their afflictions and baseness. They vanquish and defeat the four kinds of demons, and escape from the prison of the five skandhas.
The Fifth Awakening: Stupidity and ignorance are the cause of death and rebirth. Bodhisattvas apply themselves and deeply appreciate study and erudition, constantly striving to expand their wisdom and refine their eloquence. Nothing brings them greater joy than teaching and transforming living beings.
The Sixth Awakening: Suffering in poverty breeds deep resentment. Wealth unfairly distributed creates ill-will and conflict among people. Thus, Bodhisattvas practice giving. They treat friend and foe alike. They do not harbor grudges or despise amoral people.
The Seventh Awakening: The five desires are a source of offenses and grief. Truly great people, laity included, are not blighted by worldly pleasures. Instead, they aspire to don the three-piece precept robe and the blessing bowl of monastic life. Their ultimate ambition is to leave the home life and to cultivate the Path with impeccable purity. Their virtuous qualities are lofty and sublime; their attitude towards all creatures, kind and compassionate.
The Eighth Awakening: Like a blazing inferno, birth and death are plagued with suffering and affliction. Therefore, great people resolve to cultivate the Great Vehicle, to rescue all beings, to endure hardship on behalf of others, and to lead everyone to ultimate happiness.
These are the Eight Truths that all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and great people awaken to. Once awakened, they even more energetically continue to cultivate the Path. Steeping themselves in kindness and compassion, they grow in wisdom. They sail the Dharma ship across to Nirvana’s shore, and then return on the sea of birth and death to rescue living beings. They use these Eight Truths to show the proper course for living beings, causing them to recognize the anguish of birth and death. They inspire all to forsake the five desires, and to cultivate their minds in the manner of Sages.
If Buddhist disciples recite this Sutra on the Eight Awakenings, and constantly ponder its meaning, they will certainly eradicate boundless offenses, advance towards Bodhi, and will quickly realize Proper Enlightenment. They will always be free of birth and death, and will abide in eternal bliss.
(Original Translated by Shramana An Shr Gao of the Latter Han Dynasty, translated from Chinese into English by Buddhist Text Translation Society, City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Talmage, California)
4. Karma Mandala:
Karma in Sanskrit means action. These Mandalas feature the functioning of the universe, people’s actions, and the Buddha’s teaching to save all from a life of ignorance and desire – to break the cycle of birth and rebirth.
The Sand Mandala is usually square. They often contain rings and rays. The outer ring symbolizes wisdom, strength, resilience and surrender to the cosmic spirit. Possessing those human qualities are necessary in order to approach the Mandala center, which represents eternal being and existence.
Within the rings appear more squares, representing a four-walled, gated palace. The presence of the Buddha resides at the center.
Once a sand Mandala is completed the natural ebb/tide and flow of the river sweeps it up, symbolizing the constantly changing nature of Life.
There are many other types of Mandalas as variations in form and meaning differ among the various branches of Buddhism.
The Vajradhatu Mandala depicts the world of the Buddhas.
The Garbhakosa Mandala depicts the genuineness of the Buddhas as described in the Mahavairocana Sutra (Great Sun Sutra).
Many Mandalas have an associated text called a “tantra.” This text is used to advise adherents on how best to draw the Mandala, create and visualize it in meditation, and which mantras should be used during the ritual.
The term “Mandala” can also refer to Buddhist perspective and practices. In Vajrayana Buddhism mandalas are used as offerings and considered to be part of the preliminary practices. Shingon Buddhism, a Japanese branch of Vajrayana, uses Mandalas for rituals. The “Mandala of the Womb Realm” and the “Mandala of the Diamond Realm” are often used in initiation rituals. In Nichiren Buddhism the mandala consist of a hanging paper scroll or wooden tablet. Inscriptions on the scroll depict protective Buddhist deities, concepts, and the fundamentals of Buddha’s enlightenment. The “Larger Sutra” and the “Contemplative Sutra” are employed by the Pure Land branch of Buddhism to depict the glories worlds.
There is another important aspect of Mandalas that is hardly ever discussed. And that is, when the mind is very settled in meditation, a moving kaleidoscope of colors and shapes (Geometric Mandalas) can appear to your inner sight.
Subtle (astral) energy fluctuations often appear as visual images during meditation.
It’s now time for you to experiment.
Sit comfortably and close your eyes. After about a minute begin your normal meditation practice. Meditate for 10-minutes.
Now with the eyes still closed, focus your inward vision on the area between your eyebrows. This is often called the “inner eye.” Just sit quietly and patiently, and be attentive to whatever you see.
If you decide to use a blindfold or a sleeping mask to block out any stray light, that is fine so long as there is no pressure on the eyes. Do not strain.
You may see nothing, or you may see colors coming into and out of view; purple splotches dissolving into other colors of the rainbow.
Sometimes there is white light, while at other times it may appear as golden.
At even deeper levels of meditation/silence Mandalas will appear. They are round symmetric images, constantly changing shape and color. They can best be described as an ever changing pattern, like that of a turning kaleidoscope.
These are rotating and moving geometric designs. There are no embedded figures, deities, or symbols. As the subtle energy of the etheric layer of creation comes more into view for you, its dynamic activity can be seen more clearly.
The following website has an interactive display of what a mandala looks like, and its constant state of motion.
(courtesy Subtlebody images).
At even deeper levels of conscious silence the “third eye” (your spiritual eye) may be seen as a golden halo surrounding a blue circle, in the center of which pulsates a five pointed white star.
And at even deeper levels for the Enlightened, the siddhis as described by Patanjali’s “Yoga Aphorisms” manuscript, can also be seen; arrangements of stars and other wonders.
But no matter where you are on your journey, whether you see anything or not, continue forward with your daily meditation practice. Each and every day we take yet another step toward unfolding our full potential.
As we travel on this beautiful and precious planetary landscape that we call the Earth look about and take notice of the multitude of creation, life in its expressed diversity becoming more complex and aware of itself. We are separate and yet one with the cosmos. May the narrow river of our lives open as we rush onto the ocean. All is offered to us. As lightning flashes in the sky during a storm and brightens our view, so to the practice of meditation illuminates our way.