A mandala (Sanskrit: मण्डल, maṇḍala; literally "circle")
is a spiritual and ritual symbol in
Hinduism and Buddhism,
representing the universe. In common use, "mandala" has become a
generic term for any diagram, chart or geometric pattern that
represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm of
The basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates containing
a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the general shape of a
T. Mandalas often exhibit radial balance.
The term appears in the
Rigveda as the name of the sections of the
Vedic rituals use Mandalas such as
Navagraha mandala to this
Mandala is also used in Buddhism.
In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing
attention of practitioners and adepts, as a spiritual guidance tool,
for establishing a sacred space and as an aid to meditation and trance
1.1 Religious meaning
1.2 Political meaning
2.1 Early and
2.2.1 Visualisation of
126.96.36.199 Mount Meru
188.8.131.52 Wisdom and impermanence
184.108.40.206 Five Buddhas
Pure Land Buddhism
3.1 Mayan Tzolk'in
3.2 Aztec Sun Stone
5 Western psychological interpretations
6 In archaeology
7 In contemporary art
8 In science
10 See also
13 Further reading
14 External links
Mandala of Vishnu
A yantra is a two- or three-dimensional geometric composition used in
sadhanas, puja or meditative rituals. It is considered to represent
the abode of the deity. Each yantra is unique and calls the deity into
the presence of the practitioner through the elaborate symbolic
geometric designs. According to one scholar, "Yantras function as
revelatory symbols of cosmic truths and as instructional charts of the
spiritual aspect of human experience"
Many situate yantras as central focus points for Hindu tantric
practice. Yantras are not representations, but are lived,
experiential, nondual realities. As Khanna describes:
Despite its cosmic meanings a yantra is a reality lived. Because of
the relationship that exists in the
Tantras between the outer world
(the macrocosm) and man's inner world (the microcosm), every symbol in
a yantra is ambivalently resonant in inner–outer synthesis, and is
associated with the subtle body and aspects of human consciousness.
Mandala (political model)
Rajamandala (or Raja-mandala; circle of states) was formulated by
the Indian author
Kautilya in his work on politics, the Arthashastra
(written between 4th century BCE and 2nd century BCE). It describes
circles of friendly and enemy states surrounding the king's state.
In historical, social and political sense, the term "mandala" is also
employed to denote traditional Southeast Asian political formations
(such as federation of kingdoms or vassalized states). It was adopted
by 20th century Western historians from ancient Indian political
discourse as a means of avoiding the term 'state' in the conventional
sense. Not only did Southeast Asian polities not conform to Chinese
and European views of a territorially defined state with fixed borders
and a bureaucratic apparatus, but they diverged considerably in the
opposite direction: the polity was defined by its centre rather than
its boundaries, and it could be composed of numerous other tributary
polities without undergoing administrative integration. Empires
such as Bagan, Ayutthaya, Champa, Khmer,
known as "mandala" in this sense.
Painted 17th century Tibetan 'Five Deity Mandala', in the centre is
Yamari (the Red Enemy of Death) embracing his consort Vajra
Vetali, in the corners are the Red, Green White and Yellow Yamaris,
Rubin Museum of Art
Sandpainting showing Buddha mandala, which is made as part of the
death rituals among
Buddhist Newars of Nepal
The mandala can be found in the form of the stupa and in the
Atanatiya Sutta in the Digha Nikaya, part of the
Pali Canon. This
text is frequently chanted. Mandalas are traditionally found in large
Buddhist Monasteries all over the world. One can also buy
Mandalas and Thankas/Pauva in places like Thamel.
Main article: Vajrayana
Vajrayana Buddhism, mandalas have been developed also into
sandpainting. They are also a key part of Anuttarayoga Tantra
The mandala can be shown to represent in visual form the core essence
Vajrayana teachings. The mind is "a microcosm representing
various divine powers at work in the universe." The mandala
represents the nature of the Pure Land, Enlightened mind.
While on the one hand, the mandala is regarded as a place separated
and protected from the ever-changing and impure outer world of
samsara, and is thus seen as a "Buddhafield" or a place of
Nirvana and peace, the view of
Buddhism sees the greatest
protection from samsara being the power to see samsaric confusion as
the "shadow" of purity (which then points towards it).
An example of this type of mandala is Vajrabhairava
Mandala a silk
tapestry woven with gilded paper depicting lavish elements like crowns
and jewelry, which gives a three-dimensional effect to the
A mandala can also represent the entire universe, which is
traditionally depicted with
Mount Meru as the axis mundi in the
center, surrounded by the continents. One example is the
Mandala with Mount Meru, a silk tapestry from the Yuan
dynasty that serves as a diagram of the Tibetan cosmology, which was
given to China from
Nepal and Tibet.
Wisdom and impermanence
In the mandala, the outer circle of fire usually symbolises wisdom.
The ring of eight charnel grounds represents the Buddhist
exhortation to be always mindful of death, and the impermanence with
which samsara is suffused: "such locations were utilized in order to
confront and to realize the transient nature of life". Described
elsewhere: "within a flaming rainbow nimbus and encircled by a black
ring of dorjes, the major outer ring depicts the eight great charnel
grounds, to emphasize the dangerous nature of human life". Inside
these rings lie the walls of the mandala palace itself, specifically a
place populated by deities and Buddhas.
One well-known type of mandala is the mandala of the "Five Buddhas",
archetypal Buddha forms embodying various aspects of enlightenment.
Such Buddhas are depicted depending on the school of Buddhism, and
even the specific purpose of the mandala. A common mandala of this
type is that of the
Five Wisdom Buddhas
Five Wisdom Buddhas (a.k.a. Five Jinas), the
Buddhas Vairocana, Aksobhya, Ratnasambhava,
Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi.
When paired with another mandala depicting the Five Wisdom Kings, this
Mandala of the Two Realms.
Tantric mandala of Vajrayogini
Mandalas are commonly used by tantric Buddhists as an aid to
The mandala is "a support for the meditating person", something to
be repeatedly contemplated to the point of saturation, such that the
image of the mandala becomes fully internalised in even the minutest
detail and can then be summoned and contemplated at will as a clear
and vivid visualized image. With every mandala comes what Tucci calls
"its associated liturgy ... contained in texts known as tantras",
instructing practitioners on how the mandala should be drawn, built
and visualised, and indicating the mantras to be recited during its
By visualizing "pure lands", one learns to understand experience
itself as pure, and as the abode of enlightenment. The protection that
we need, in this view, is from our own minds, as much as from external
sources of confusion. In many tantric mandalas, this aspect of
separation and protection from the outer samsaric world is depicted by
"the four outer circles: the purifying fire of wisdom, the vajra
circle, the circle with the eight tombs, the lotus circle". The
ring of vajras forms a connected fence-like arrangement running around
the perimeter of the outer mandala circle.
As a meditation on impermanence (a central teaching of Buddhism),
after days or weeks of creating the intricate pattern of a sand
mandala, the sand is brushed together into a pile and spilled into a
body of running water to spread the blessings of the mandala.
Kværne in his extended discussion of sahaja, discusses the
relationship of sadhana interiority and exteriority in relation to
...external ritual and internal sadhana form an indistinguishable
whole, and this unity finds its most pregnant expression in the form
of the mandala, the sacred enclosure consisting of concentric squares
and circles drawn on the ground and representing that adamant plane of
being on which the aspirant to Buddha hood wishes to establish
himself. The unfolding of the tantric ritual depends on the mandala;
and where a material mandala is not employed, the adept proceeds to
construct one mentally in the course of his meditation."
Chenrezig sand mandala created at the House of Commons of the United
Kingdom on the occasion of the Dalai Lama's visit in May 2008
A "mandala offering" in Tibetan
Buddhism is a symbolic offering of
the entire universe. Every intricate detail of these mandalas is fixed
in the tradition and has specific symbolic meanings, often on more
than one level.
Whereas the above mandala represents the pure surroundings of a
Buddha, this mandala represents the universe. This type of mandala is
used for the mandala-offerings, during which one symbolically offers
the universe to the Buddhas or to one's teacher. Within Vajrayana
practice, 100,000 of these mandala offerings (to create merit) can be
part of the preliminary practices before a student even begins actual
tantric practices. This mandala is generally structured according
to the model of the universe as taught in a
Buddhist classic text the
Mount Meru at the centre, surrounded by the
continents, oceans and mountains, etc.
One Japanese branch of
frequent use of mandalas in its rituals as well, though the actual
mandalas differ. When Shingon's founder, Kukai, returned from his
training in China, he brought back two mandalas that became central to
Shingon ritual: the
Mandala of the
Womb Realm and the
Mandala of the
These two mandalas are engaged in the abhiseka initiation rituals for
Shingon students, more commonly known as the Kechien Kanjō
(結縁灌頂). A common feature of this ritual is to blindfold the
new initiate and to have them throw a flower upon either mandala.
Where the flower lands assists in the determination of which tutelary
deity the initiate should follow.
Sand mandalas, as found in Tibetan Buddhism, are not practiced in
Buddhism is called a moji-mandala
(文字曼陀羅) and is a paper hanging scroll or wooden tablet whose
inscription consists of Chinese characters and medieval-Sanskrit
script representing elements of the Buddha's enlightenment, protective
Buddhist deities, and certain
Buddhist concepts. Called the Gohonzon,
it was originally inscribed by Nichiren, the founder of this branch of
Japanese Buddhism, during the late 13th Century. The
Gohonzon is the
primary object of veneration in some
Nichiren schools and the only one
in others, which consider it to be the supreme object of worship as
the embodiment of the supreme
Dharma and Nichiren's inner
enlightenment. The seven characters Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō,
considered to be the name of the supreme Dharma, as well as the
invocation that believers chant, are written down the center of all
Nichiren-sect Gohonzons, whose appearance may otherwise vary depending
on the particular school and other factors.
Pure Land Buddhism
Mandalas have sometimes been used in
Buddhism to graphically
represent Pure Lands, based on descriptions found in the Larger Sutra
and the Contemplation Sutra. The most famous mandala in Japan is the
Taima Mandala, dated to approximately 763 CE. The
Taima Mandala is
based upon the Contemplation Sutra, but other similar mandalas have
been made subsequently. Unlike mandalas used in
Vajrayana Buddhism, it
is not used as an object of meditation or for esoteric ritual.
Instead, it provides a visual representation of the
Pure Land texts,
and is used as a teaching aid.
Jodo Shinshu Buddhism,
Shinran and his descendant, Rennyo,
sought a way to create easily accessible objects of reverence for the
lower-classes of Japanese society.
Shinran designed a mandala using a
hanging scroll, and the words of the nembutsu (南無阿彌陀佛)
written vertically. This style of mandala is still used by some Jodo
Shinshu Buddhists in home altars, or butsudan.
Tzolk'in wheel from 498 AD.
One of several parallels between Eastern and
the Mayan civilization tended to present calendars in a mandala
form. It is similar in form and function to the
of Time) sand paintings of Tibetan Buddhists. The tzolk'in wheel
has 260 segments, surprising because the Mayans recognized that the
calendar year is 365 days long. Ultimately, the symbol was probably
used for ritual purposes, and to measure the interval of a number of
9-month intervals like pregnancy, the cultivation time of some crops,
and rituals that were performed at a 260-day spacing each year, for
example, spring and fall.
This Mayan symbology has even made its way into
New Age symbolism as
Dreamspell calendar, developed by José Argüelles. Sometimes
described as an authentic Mayan mandala, it is "inspired by" elements
Tzolk'in wheel of time.
Aztec Sun Stone
The Aztec Sun Stone as an amate print.
The Sun Stone of the Aztec civilization was once believed to be their
equivalent of a
Tzolk'in calendar, but is now thought to be a
ceremonial representation of the entire universe as seen by the Aztec
The earliest interpretations of the stone relate to its use as a
calendar. In 1792, two years after the stone's unearthing, Mexican
Antonio de León y Gama
Antonio de León y Gama wrote a treatise on the Aztec
calendar using the stone as its basis. Some of the circles of
glyphs are the glyphs for the days of the month. The four symbols
included in the Ollin glyph represent the four past suns that the
Mexica believed the earth had passed through.
Another aspect of the stone is its religious significance. One theory
is that the face at the center of the stone represents Tonatiuh, the
Aztec deity of the sun. It is for this reason that the stone became
known as the "Sun Stone." Richard Townsend proposed a different
theory, claiming that the figure at the center of the stone represents
Tlaltecuhtli, the Mexica earth deity who features in Mexica creation
myths. Modern archaeologists, such as those at the National
Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, believe it is more likely to have
been used primarily as a ceremonial basin or ritual altar for
gladiatorial sacrifices than as an astrological or astronomical
Yet another characteristic of the stone is its possible geographic
significance. The four points may relate to the four corners of the
earth or the cardinal points. The inner circles may express space as
well as time.
Lastly, there is the political aspect of the stone. It may have been
intended to show
Tenochtitlan as the center of the world and
therefore, as the center of authority. Townsend argues for this
idea, claiming that the small glyphs of additional dates amongst the
four previous suns—1 Flint (Tecpatl), 1 Rain (Atl), and 7 Monkey
(Ozomahtli)—represent matters of historical importance to the Mexica
state. He posits, for example, that 7 Monkey represents the
significant day for the cult of a community within Tenochtitlan. His
claim is further supported by the presence of Mexica ruler Moctezuma
II's name on the work. These elements ground the Stone's iconography
in history rather than myth and the legitimacy of the state in the
The round window at the site of the
Marsh Chapel Experiment
Marsh Chapel Experiment supervised
by Walter Pahnke
Forms which are evocative of mandalas are prevalent in Christianity:
the celtic cross; the rosary; the halo; the aureole; oculi; the Crown
of Thorns; rose windows; the Rosy Cross; and the dromenon on the floor
of Chartres Cathedral. The dromenon represents a journey from the
outer world to the inner sacred centre where the Divine is found.
Cosmati pavements, including that at Westminster Abbey, are
geometric mandala-like mosaic designs from thirteenth century Italy.
The Great Pavement at
Westminster Abbey is believed to embody divine
and cosmic geometries as the seat of enthronement of the monarchs of
Similarly, many of the Illuminations of
Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard von Bingen can be
used as mandalas, as well as many of the images of esoteric
Christianity, as in
Christian Alchemy, and
Alchemist, Mathematician and Astrologer
John Dee developed a geometric
symbol which he called the
Sigillum Dei 'Seal of God' manifesting a
universal geometric order which incorporated the names of the
archangels, derived from earlier forms of the clavicula salomonis or
key of Solomon.
The Seal of God; a mystic pentagram symbol composed by Dee
The Layer Monument, an early 17th-century marble mural funerary
monument at the Church of Saint John the Baptist, Maddermarket,
Norwich, is a rare example of
Christian iconography absorbing
alchemical symbolism to create a mandala in Western funerary art.
Western psychological interpretations
According to art therapist and mental health counselor Susanne F.
Fincher, we owe the re-introduction of mandalas into modern Western
thought to Carl Jung, the Swiss analytical psychologist. In his
pioneering exploration of the unconscious through his own art making,
Jung observed the motif of the circle spontaneously appearing. The
circle drawings reflected his inner state at that moment. Familiarity
with the philosophical writings of
India prompted Jung to adopt the
word "mandala" to describe these circle drawings he and his patients
made. In his autobiography, Jung wrote:
I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, ...
which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time. ... Only
gradually did I discover what the mandala really is: ... the Self, the
wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious.
— Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 195–196.
Jung recognized that the urge to make mandalas emerges during moments
of intense personal growth. Their appearance indicates a profound
re-balancing process is underway in the psyche. The result of the
process is a more complex and better integrated personality.
The mandala serves a conservative purpose—namely, to restore a
previously existing order. But it also serves the creative purpose of
giving expression and form to something that does not yet exist,
something new and unique. ... The process is that of the ascending
spiral, which grows upward while simultaneously returning again and
again to the same point.
— Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz, C. G. Jung: Man and His
Symbols, p. 225
Creating mandalas helps stabilize, integrate, and re-order inner
According to the psychologist David Fontana, its symbolic nature can
help one "to access progressively deeper levels of the unconscious,
ultimately assisting the meditator to experience a mystical sense of
oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its
manifold forms arises."
One of the most intense archaeological discoveries in recent years
that could redefine the history of eastern thought and tradition of
mandala is the discovery of five giant mandalas in the valley of
Manipur made with Google Earth imagery. Located in the paddy field in
the west of Imphal, the capital of Manipur, the Maklang geoglyph is
perhaps the world’s largest mandala built entirely of mud. The site
wasn’t discovered until 2013 as its whole structure could only be
visible via Google Earth satellite imagery. The whole paddy field,
locally known as Bihu Loukon, is now protected and announced as
historical monument and site by the government of
Manipur in the same
year. The site is situated 12 km aerial distance from
the GPS coordinates of 24° 48' N and 93° 49' E. It covers a total
area of around 224,161.45 square meters. This square mandala has four
similar protruding rectangular ‘gates’ in the cardinal directions
guarded each by similar but smaller rectangular ‘gates’ on the
left and right. Within the square there is an eight petalled flower or
rayed-star, recently called as Maklang ‘Star fort’ by the locals,
in the centre covering a total area of around 50,836.66 square meters.
The discovery of other five giant mandalas in the valley of
also made with Google Earth. The five giant mandalas, viz., Sekmai
mandala, Heikakmapal mandala, Phurju twin mandalas and Sangolmang
mandala are located on the western bank of the Iril River.
In contemporary art
Mandalas can be found in early
Buddhist art from the 14th and 15th
Mandali Mendrilla designed an interactive art
Mandala of Desires (Blue Lotus Wish Tree) made in
peace silk and eco friendly textile ink, displayed at the China Art
Museum in Shanghai in November 2015. The pattern of the dress was
based on the Goloka
Yantra mandala, shaped as a lotus with eight
petals. Visitors were invited to place a wish on the sculpture dress,
which will be taken to
India and offered to a genuine living Wish
Phylogenetic tree of
Hexapoda (insects and their six-legged
relatives). Such trees have been called phylogenetic mandalas.
Circular diagrams are often used in phylogenetics, especially for the
graphical representation of phylogenetic relationships. Evolutionary
trees often encompass numerous species that are conveniently shown on
a circular tree, with images of the species shown on the periphery of
a tree. Such diagrams have been called phylogenetic mandalas.
Mandala with Mount Meru, silk tapestry, China via The
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Vajrabhairava Mandala, silk tapestry, China via The Metropolitan
Museum of Art
A diagramic drawing of the Sri Yantra, showing the outside square,
with four T-shaped gates, and the central circle
Vishnu Mandala(Traditionally found in Nepal)
Painted 19th century Tibetan mandala of the
Vajrayogini stands in the center of two crossed red triangles, Rubin
Museum of Art
Painted Bhutanese Medicine Buddha mandala with the goddess
Prajnaparamita in center, 19th century, Rubin Museum of Art
Mandala of the Six Chakravartins
Jain cosmological diagrams and text.
Mandala painted by a patient of Carl Jung
Floorplan for the 9th-century Indonesian
the form of a mandala
Jain picture of Mahavira
Mandali Mendrilla's interactive sculpture dress "
Mandala of Desires"
China Art Museum
China Art Museum in Shanghai, November 2015
Great chain of being
Mandylion, the first icon in Christianity
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Media related to Mandalas at Wikimedia Commons
Introduction to Mandalas
Buddhist and Hindu
Mandalas in the Tradition of the Dalai Lamas' Namgyal Monastery by
Practices and teachings
Drogön Chögyal Phagpa
Thang Tong Gyalpo
Gorampa Sonam Sengye
Dorje (2nd Dudjom Rinpoche)
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö
Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen
Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Tenzin Ösel Hita
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
Mikyö Dorje, 8th
Rongtong Shenrab Kunrig
Orgyen Chokgyur Lingpa
Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
Tsele Natsok Rangdröl
Lama Jampa Thaye
Rangjung Dorje, 3rd
Thubten Zopa Rinpoche
Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche
Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo
Go Lotsawa Shonnu Pal
Second Beru Khyentse
Alexander Berzin (scholar)
Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche
Khenpo Abbey Rinpoche
Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Kathok Ontrul Rinpoche
Zurmang Tenpa Rinpoche
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Dawa Chodrak Rinpoche
Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche
Karma Thinley Rinpoche
Luding Khenchen Rinpoche
Hugh Edward Richardson
Charles Alfred Bell
Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
Iconography in Laos and Thailand
Mahapajapati Gotamī (aunt, adoptive mother)
Places where the Buddha stayed
Buddha in world religions
Three marks of existence
Two truths doctrine
Ten spiritual realms
Hungry Ghost realm
Three planes of existence
Vipassanā (Vipassana movement)
Seven Factors of Enlightenment
Four Right Exertions
Four stages of enlightenment
Upāsaka and Upāsikā
The ten principal disciples
Emperor Wen of Sui
Basic points unifying Theravāda and Mahāyāna
Buddhism in India
Buddhism in India
Buddhism and the Roman world
Buddhism in the West
Silk Road transmission of Buddhism
Persecution of Buddhists
Buddhist monks from Nepal
Women in Buddhism
The unanswered questions
Thai temple art and architecture
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
Om mani padme hum
Maya Devi Temple
Temple of the Tooth
East Asian religions