See G. Tucci, Theory of Practice of the Mandala (1969); M. Arguelles, Mandala (1972); D. F. Bischoff, Mandala (1983). For an analytical psychology perspective, see C. Jung, Mandala Symbolism (tr. 1972).
Mandala (Sanskrit मंड "essence" + ल "having" or "containing". It is also translated as "circle-circumference" or "completion", both derived from the Tibetan term dkyil khor). Mandala is of Hindu origin, the term being used for the books of the Rig Veda. but is also used in other Indian religions such as Buddhism. In the Tibetan branch of Vajrayana Buddhism, mandalas have been developed into sandpainting. They are also a key part of anuttarayoga tantra meditation practices.
In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts; as a spiritual teaching tool; for establishing a sacred space; and as an aid to meditation and trance induction. According to 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." The psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw the mandala as "a representation of the unconscious self, and believed his paintings of mandalas enabled him to identify emotional disorders and work towards wholeness in personality.
In common use, mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically, a microcosm of the Universe from the human perspective.
A kyil khor (Tibetan for mandala) in Vajrayana Buddhism usually depicts a landscape of the Buddha land or the enlightened vision of a Buddha (which are inevitably identified with and represent the nature of experience and the intricacies of both the enlightened and confused mind): "a microcosm representing various divine powers at work in the universe." Such mandalas consist of an outer circular mandala and an inner square (or sometimes circular) mandala with an ornately decorated mandala palace placed at the center. Any part of the inner mandala can be occupied by Buddhist glyphs and symbols as well as images of its associated deities, which "symbolise different stages in the process of the realisation of the truth." Mandalas are commonly used by tantric Buddhists as an aid to meditation. More specifically, a Buddhist mandala is envisaged as a "sacred space," a Pure Buddha Realm and also as an abode of fully realised beings or deities. While on the one hand, it 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 Vajrayana Buddhism sees the greatest protection from samsara being the power to see samsaric confusion as the "shadow" of purity (which then points towards it). By visualizing purelands, one learns to understand experience itself as pure, and the abode of enlightenment. The protection 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 The mandala is also "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 which can then be summoned and contemplated at will as a clear and vivid visualised 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 ritual use.
The photograph at right is a good example of a Tibetan sand mandala. This pattern is painstakingly created on the temple floor by several monks who use small tubes and rub another metal object against the tube's notched surface to create a tiny flow of grains. The various aspects of the traditionally fixed design represent symbolically the objects of worship and contemplation of the Tibetan Buddhist cosmology.
To symbolize impermanence (a central teaching of Buddhism), after days or weeks of creating the intricate pattern, the sand is brushed together and is usually placed in a body of running water to spread the blessings of the mandala.
The visualization and concretization of the mandala concept is one of the most significant contributions of Buddhism to Transpersonal Psychology. Mandalas are seen as sacred places which, by their very presence in the world, remind a viewer of the immanence of sanctity in the Universe and its potential in his or her self. In the context of the Buddhist path the purpose of a mandala is to put an end to human suffering, to attain enlightenment and to attain a correct view of Reality. It is a means to discover divinity by the realization that it resides within one's own self.
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. 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.
The mandala can be shown to represent in visual form the core essence of the Vajrayana teachings. In the mandala, the outer circle of fire usually symbolises wisdom. The ring of 8 charnel grounds probably represent the Buddhist exhortation to always be mindful of death and impermanence with which samsara is suffused: "such locations were utilized in order to confront and to realize the transient nature of life." Described elsewhere thus: "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 in Japan is the mandala of the "Five Buddhas", archetypal Buddha forms embodying various aspects of enlightenment, the 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 (a.k.a. Five Jinas), the Buddhas Vairocana, Aksobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi. When paired with another mandala depicting the Five Wisdom Kings, this forms the Mandala of the Two Realms.
These two mandalas are engaged in the abhiseka initiation rituals for new Shingon students, more commonly known as the Kechien Kongo (結縁潅頂). A common feature in this ritual is to blindfold the new initiate and 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 Shingon Buddhism.
Also in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, Shinran and his descendant, Rennyo, sought a way to create easily accessible objects of reverence to 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.
Similarly, many of the Illuminations of Hildegard von Bingen can be used as Mandalas, as are many of the images of esoteric Christianity (e.g., Christian Hermeticism, Christian Alchemy & Rosicrucianism).
A Bora is the name given both to an initiation ceremony of Indigenous Australians, and to the site Bora Ring on which the initiation is performed. At such a site, young boys are transformed into men via rites of passage. The word Bora was originally from South-East Australia, but is now often used throughout Australia to describe an initiation site or ceremony. The term "bora" is held to be etymologically derived from that of the belt or girdle that encircles initiated men. The appearance of a Bora Ring varies from one culture to another, but it is often associated with stone arrangements, rock engravings, or other art works. Women are generally prohibited from entering a bora. In South East Australia, the Bora is often associated with the creator-spirit Baiame. Bora rings, found in South-East Australia, are circles of foot-hardened earth surrounded by raised embankments. They were generally constructed in pairs (although some sites have three), with a bigger circle about 22 metres in diameter and a smaller one of about 14 metres. The rings are joined by a sacred walkway. Matthews (1897) gives an excellent eye-witness account of a Bora ceremony, and explains the use of the two circles.
In science fiction, geometric patterns akin to mandalas have been used to represent advanced technology with esoteric properties, such as the time travel mechanism in the 2007 movie The Last Mimzy or the alien signal in the 2005 television show Threshold.
Also, in the newest Agent Pendergast novel The Wheel of Darkness, the titular agent is hired on to find an artifact of extreme danger and evil for a temple of monks. It is revealed that it is a painting of a mandala so intense that it destroys the mind of the viewer.