Articles About Tibetan Thangka Painting - index:

An Introduction to Tibetan Thangka Painting

What is a Thangka?

Female Deities In Tibetan Buddhism

Green Tara and the Twenty-one Taras

The Mandala And Its Symbolism

Wrathful Deities of the Tibetan Buddhist Pantheon

The Wheel Of Life

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The Mandala And Its Symbolism

The mandala is a circular design representing the three-dimensional temple or heavenly abode of a Buddhist deity, visualised in its entirety as part of the practice associated with its central figure or deity. The word mandala comes from the Sanskrit word Mandir, meaning a temple. The Tibetan term is Khil Khor, meaning both "centre" and "round". 

The mandala is used in initiation ceremonies of the highest (Anuttara) tantric yoga practice, as a means of divination and occasionally in everyday meditation.

It is seen as a map for transforming the mind through practice and depicts the totally balanced state of mind and body. There are five types of mandalas: paintings, woodblock prints, temple structures, sand mandalas and simple self-initiation pictures. The sand mandala is created at special ceremonies by a team of monks using narrow tubes called chang bu filled with coloured sand on a large chalk drawing. This is done on a raised platform, usually about six feet square, and can take several weeks to complete.   

The paintings are inscribed on the reverse with three Tibetan syllables Om, Ah and Hung, representing the pure aspects of body, speech and mind.

The fire around the outside of the painting and the lotus petals represent the protection of the deity's wisdom and the purity of a true moral code.

The green area, called the Vajra ground, represents a natural environment or area of grass outside the temple where stand ornamental gold pots, some with banners, and eight pots with trees containing the Eight Precious Offerings, the Seven Royal Symbols with the Great Treasure Vase, symbolising effort, subtlety, equanimity, order of affairs, balance of mind, memory, wisdom and joy.

In the upper part of the Vajra ground are two bodyguards in each direction in the respective colour and mudra (hand gesture) of each of the buddha families and two heavenly attendants in clouds who sprinkle divine nectar on the initiate as he or she passes into the temple through the gate of each direction.

On the gate and at each corner of the temple are umbrellas symbolising the protection of true knowledge. The central square depicts the walls of the temple with a row of lotus petals symbolising the moral code of right living, a row of guardian monsters called Kirtimukha and eight flying dakinis which represent the pleasures of incense, music, light, dance, perfume, grace, flowers and garlands.

The Mandala of Akshobya:

The four directional gates are shown in white, green, red and yellow (with green in the north on the right side of the mandala) and each corresponds to the buddha family of that direction. The colours are also associated with emotional states in the mind of the practitioner. A divination, in which a small stick or feather is dropped on to a mandala, by the Lama (Buddhist priest) leading a ceremony, gives the initiate guidance to focus on a certain aspect of their mind that is to be ritually transformed.

There is a narrow band of five coloured lines, which represents a rainbow of light, visualised to purify the Buddhist practitioner before entering the centre of the temple. At the centre of the mandala is an eight-petalled lotus flower with the eight Tashis or "good luck symbols", also symbolising the eightfold path of Buddhist morality.

Inside the circle of petals is painted the overlighting deity whose abode the mandala portrays - in this case Akshobya, who is the blue buddha of infinite consciousness and the element of space, also known as Mitrugpa, the "Unshakable One" or "Unmoving Diamond Buddha". He holds a vajra (or "diamond sceptre") symbolising knowledge of both conventional and ultimate reality and acts to transform ignorance into all-pervading awareness.  

by Peter "Zotec" Newman, Cumbria, England © 16/11/2002

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All articles © Zotec 2002-2009