Sunday, 26 December 2010

Healing Mandalas symbolize the Circle of Life

The first Christmas present I received this year is a calendar of many healing mandalas given by Old Beng and his wife. They bought it from their recent vacation to Spain. It was a surprise for them to find a Tibetan Calendar in Spain! Many thanks to this lovely couple whom I have the fortune to meet and to be acquainted with this year.

What is a mandala? 
Mandalas are works of sacred art in Tantric (Tibetan) Buddhism. The word "mandala" comes from a Sanskrit word that generally means "circle". The Tibetan mandala is a tool for gaining wisdom and compassion and generally is depicted as a tightly balanced, geometric composition wherein deities reside. The principal Buddha is housed in the center. The mandala serves as a tool for guiding individuals along the path to enlightenment. Monks meditate upon the mandala, imagining it as a three-dimensional palace. The deities who reside in the palace embody philosophical views and serve as role models. The mandala's purpose is to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones. 

Simply stated, a mandala becomes a sacred area that serves as a receptable for deities and a collection point of universal forces. By mentally entering a mandala and proceeding to its center, a person is symbolically guided through the cosmos to the essence of reality. By constructing a mandala, a monk ritually participates in the Buddha's teachings.

The sand mandala
In Tibetan Buddhism, contemplation of sacred images is central to religious ritual, and a mandala is one of the most important of these sacred images. Mandalas constructed are believed to effect purification and healing. According to Buddhist scripture, sand mandalas transmit positive energies to the environment and to the people who view them. Typically, a great teacher chooses the specific mandala to be created. Monks then begin construction of the sand mandala by consecrating the site with sacred chants and music. The monks chant and meditate to invoke the divine energies of the deities residing within the mandala, and ask for the deities' healing blessings. Next, they make a detailed drawing from memory. Over a number of days, they fill in the design with millions of grains of colored sand. At its completion, the mandala is consecrated. The monks then enact the impermanent nature of existence by sweeping up the colored grains and dispersing them in flowing water, a further expression of sharing the mandala's healing power and blessings with all. 

The process of constructing a mandala is a sacred ritual. It is a meditative, painstaking process that can take days or even weeks to complete. Before a monk may participate in the construction of a mandala, he must undergo a lengthy period of artistic and philosophical study. In the Namgyal monastery, the personal monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, this period lasts three years.

Mandala symbolism
Outside the square temple are several concentric circles. The outermost circle is usually decorated with stylized scrollwork resembling a ring of fire. This ring of fire symbolizes the process of transformation humans must undergo before being able to enter the sacred territory within. It both bars the unitiated and symbolizes the burning of ignorance.

The next circle inward is a ring of thunderbolt or diamond scepters, which stands for indestructability and illumination. This is followed by a circle of eight graveyards, representing the eight aspects of human consciousness that bind a person to the cycle of rebirth. Finally, the innermost ring is made of lotus leaves, signifying religious rebirth.

The square structure in the middle of a mandala is a palace for the resident deities and a temple containing the essence of the Buddha. The square temple's four elaborate gates symbolize a variety of ideas, including:

* The four boundless thoughts: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathy and equanimity
* The four directions: south, north, east and west

Within the square palace or temple are images of deities, which are usually the Five Dhyani Buddhas (the Great Buddhas of Wisdom). The iconography of these deities is rich in symbolism in itself. Each of the Dhyani Buddhas represents a direction (center, south, north, east and west), cosmic element (like form and consciousness), earthly element (ether, air, water, earth and fire), and a particular type of wisdom. Each Buddha is empowered to overcome a particular evil, such as ignorance, envy or hatred. The Five Dhyani Buddhas are generally identical in appearance, but are each represented iconographically with a particular color, mudra (hand gesture), and animal.

In the center of the mandala is an image of the chief deity, who is placed over the center dot described above. Because it has no dimensions, the center dot represents the seed or center of the universe.

Below is a video clip showing the construction of a Kalachakra Mandala in 2009.   


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