Circle of Enlightenment: Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala

Kalachakra Mind Sand Mandala

From Tuesday, March 23 through Friday, April 9, two monks from the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies will be in residence for three weeks in the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery to create a Kalachakra Mind Sand Mandala. The Gallery will be open regular hours from Monday, April 12 through Friday, April 16, to view the completed mandala. The monks will return to campus on Saturday, April 17, to dismantle the mandala in a ritual ceremony.

The Tibetan word for mandala is kilkhor, which means “center of the circle with exterior walls and surrounding environment.” A mandala is a visual prayer and also a symbolic universe. It may be represented by a three-dimensional model or more often two-dimensionally by means of a painted scroll. Mandalas may also be created with precious jewels, flowers, dyed rice, colored stones, or colored sand on a two-dimensional surface. Sand, traditionally made from ground precious stones, is considered the most efficacious material because of the precious substances involved and the great skill required to create the mandala’s exquisite details. Since each grain of sand is charged with the blessings of the ritual process, the entire sand mandala embodies a vast store of spiritual energy. According to Buddhist history, the purpose, meanings, and techniques involved in the spiritual art of sand mandala painting were taught by Sakyamuni Buddha in the 6th-century B.C. in India. This tradition has been preserved over the past 2500 years in an unbroken transmission from master to disciple.

Each mandala is a sacred mansion, the home of a particular deity, who symbolically represents and embodies enlightened qualities, such as compassion. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, mandalas are created for rituals of initiation in which a highly qualified teacher grants permission to advanced disciples to engage in the meditation practice of a particular tantric deity. Both the deity, which resides at the center of the mandala, and the mandala itself are recognized as pure expressions of a Buddha’s fully enlightened mind. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the seed of enlightenment in each person’s mind can be nourished by the dynamic process of visualizing and contemplating the symbolic meanings contained within a mandala. Through this practice, the initiate attempts to integrate these qualities and attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. In Tibetan folklore, it is thought a great blessing just to see a well-made mandala, since the impression goes into the subconscious and marks it on the genetic level, so that in some time one will automatically gravitate toward the Buddha realm.

The Kalachakra Mandala is the most complex of all mandalas, housing the mandalas of Body, Speech, and Mind and representing a total of 722 deities. In the Kalachakra Mind Mandala, only the deities of the Mind Mandala reside. This is not to say that the latter is incomplete. Since the mind dominates body and speech, if one purifies or tames the mind, the body and speech will also be purified. That is why in Tibetan Buddhism, intention or motivation is more important than the physical actions of body and speech. The Kalachakra Mind Mandala represents the essence of the more elaborate Kalachakra Mandala.

-- Sidney Piburn and Ven. Tenzin Yignyen

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Last updated: Tuesday, May 15, 2001