Mandalas And Their meanings

March 22, 2015 - 3:49 pm Comments Off on Mandalas And Their meanings

A Preface to Charleston’s Tibetan Cultural Week:

The Meaning of Mandalas

The Unity Community of Mt. Pleasant, SC

March 22, 2015

The ancient teachings and practices associated with Buddhism, are enjoying a sustained popularity no one would have predicted just 30 years ago. As mainline Christian churches shrink, Buddhism is one of the approaches to spirituality and life that has steadily grown and prospered in our country… And I would say, across the modern Western world.

Given that I would enjoy the possibility of teaching the concepts of Buddhism over a much longer time period and with a much more in depth outlook, I will not speak today about the origins of Buddhism, The Gautama, The spread Eastward in Asia, and the various kinds or schools of Buddhist thought and practice. Instead, I will choose to highlight what we are privileged to see and witness over this coming week- the arts and culture of Tibet and one of its chief tools for teaching spiritual awareness, the mandala.

What are some of the reasons for this influx of Tibetan teachers and the establishment of Buddhist study centers around the country?

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The first, and most obvious is that it is not Judeo-Christian! There are many people who were raised in traditional Western homes that have found themselves to either at odds with the teachings and precise of these faiths, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, that they have left during their early adulthood in search of an understanding of life, the self, and the world that make greater sense to them than the way they had seen it practiced and understood in their childhood homes.

The second, seemingly startling reason that Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism in particular has grown in its appeal to Westerners is the fact that in Buddhism, there is no concept of a troublesome, capricious, personal God… In fact, even though elaborate in its symbolism and rituals, there is no theology or a God that stands apart!

The third one I will consider this morning that will be my theme, is the way Buddhism uses its signs, symbols, colors and designs to evoke meaning and to impel our thoughts and feelings towards the teachings of its core truths and principles. Of course, it does not hurt to have a series of delightful, grand fatherly and gentle teachers…

Chief among them is Tenzen Gayatso, the 14th or the current Dali Lama, who lives in India, but who could call the world his home.

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He is one of the individuals most responsible for the spread and popularity of Tibetan teachings, and he has assisted his people immensely by how well he lives and then conveys the teachings…

By most definitions, he would be a world saint, or an inspired teacher whose life is dedicated to wisdom, compassion, and kindness.

As a symbolic and complex teaching tool, the mandala can be seen as representing many things… At its most basic, it is a wheel, a circle or a circular depiction of the whole of life. In the blessing or transmission of the Kali Chakra, which is known as the wheel of time, the mandala represents the whole course of human existence: past, present, and future… That it symbolizes that which is completely within us, and that which is the nature of all that is beyond and yet includes us as spelled out in the last stanza of the Heart Sutra which proclaims a connection, an interdependence of consciousness that is not only beyond our normal waking mind, or beyond our caring heart; It is a supreme reality that is beyond, or refers to the beyond that is beyond the beyond! Gate’, Gate’. Parasam Gate Bohdi Svaha…,

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“Mandalas are far more than geometrical figures, however. For Tantric Buddhists, they are rich with symbolism and sacred meaning. In fact, the etymology of the word “mandala” suggests not just a circle but a “container of essence.”

Simply stated, a mandala is a sacred geometric figure that represents the universe. When completed, a mandala becomes a sacred area that serves as a receptacle 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.”

“Mandala Symbolism

In Buddhism, Mandalas are rich with symbolism that evokes various aspects of Buddhist teaching and tradition. This is part of what makes the creation of a mandala a sacred act, for as they work, the monks are imparting the Buddha’s teachings.

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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 uninitiated and symbolizes the burning of ignorance. ”

The next circle inward is a ring of thunderbolt or diamond scepters, which stands for indestructibility 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

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Within the square palace or temple are images of deities, which are usually the Five Dyani Buddhas (the Great Buddhas of Wisdom). The iconography of these deities is rich in symbolism in itself. Each of the Dyani 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 Dyani 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.

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So, one of the core meanings of the mandala is a symbol of time;

Another is that the mandala represent the construction of reality, and as such, how consciousness is built, how it can be destroyed, how what is adamantine remains, and how that which is material, temporal, or subjective can be easily destroyed or lost.

Without getting too elaborate, the four main Buddhas guard the 4 gates of the mandala, warding off evil, desire, and distraction, thus protecting the wisdom that is to be found within, and the teachings that the mandala can contain for us.

While often considered to be a principal tool in teaching about the impermanence of life, and how clinging on to anything, anyone, any idea can prove to create suffering from this experience of attachment, the mandala and its dissolution teaches us the lessons of impermanence are not the only wisdom to that is found in its shapes and designs.

The other central teaching can be seen if you are willing to picture the mandala as a sky chart, and insight into the universe- as a cosmic pattern, or a celestial view of the totality of our existence…

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becomes our incentive to center or concentrate our lives on that which is transcendent, permanent, undying and everlasting:

Wisdom, truth, compassion, kindness… not anything built by human hands or given an arbitrary value by human culture.

Among the many things the mandala can represent for us is that as it is laid out, it becomes a container for our blessings… the multicolored sands are the textures of life and hues of our humanity.

As each grain of sand is added, it becomes for us , a visible prayer- a divine syllable that makes up the symphony and celebration of life.

Once complete, the mandala becomes for us a sacred design that blesses the whole environment because it can act as a blessing chamber, an alchemical crucible from which prayers take shape, and compassionate energies can flow… It becomes its own self sustaining energy source and becomes capable of being an instrument of healing and transformation.

It is said that wherever a mandala is created with devout sincerity, its presence will serve to elevate the aspirations, and intentions of the space it is in, the people who live or work, or in this pray there…

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Furthermore, it is an energy when it is agreed on, can foster spiritual growth and ethical change in the larger neighborhood or the greater surroundings.

So As you observe the mandala this week, try to see it through this more expansive view… Engage, as practically as possible, in the use of the group mandala as your own; and also as a focal point for any universal prayers, hopes, and intentions.

In this way, mandalas attest to the beneficial principle:

WHAT BLESS ONE, BLESSES ALL… AMEN

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