Mandala Buddhism


Mandala (from Sanskrit: मण्डल IAST: maṇḍala; Chinese: 曼荼羅 / 曼荼罗, màntúluó; Japanese: 曼陀羅 (mandara? ), phonetic translations; Tibetan: དཀྱིལ་འཁོར, Wylie: dkyil 'khor, THL: kilkor meaning yantra yoga), is a Sanskrit term meaning circle, and by extension, sphere, environment, community, used in Hinduism, as well as Buddhism and Jainism.

It is composed of the Sanskrit words "manda", meaning "essence", and "la" meaning "container ". Mandalas are primarily ritual areas used to evoke Hindu deities. Buddhism, which inherited these practices, also uses mandalas for its rituals and meditation practices. In Vajid Buddhism, mandalas are used to evoke Hindu deities.

In Vajrayāna Buddhism, there are different forms of mandalas, either a complex painted or carved structure in the round used for initiatory progression, or a diagram made of colored sand that is used primarily for meditation.

The diagram is in all cases filled with symbols; it may be associated with a deity. Some mandalas, very elaborate and codified, become semi-figurative, semi-abstract, such as Nichiren's Gohonzon.


Proto-mandalas are attested for their political aspects since the first century BC. The power of the ruler was then linked to the ancestors and the animist spirit.

If practitioners of Buddhism of the Yuezhi people (of the Kushan Empire) are noted in China in -2, the era of Buddhism in China probably begins under the reign of Emperor Han Mingdi (reign, 58 - 75) being the first known to have had an interest in Buddhism, with notably the foundation of the White Horse Temple.

At the beginning of the arrival of Buddhism in China, exegesis treatises and ritual manuals were written. The confession manual at the time of the introduction of Buddhism in China.

the monastic confession ritual (pratimokṣa), not necessarily corresponding to real confessions, but to an exercise of detachment from emptiness. These confessions, sometimes of imaginary sins, enable him to understand the true nature of all things (dharma).

Manuals are written by Chinese monks, some of which have more practical importance in rituals than the sūtra and vinaya. Lay people then erase their sins by confessing according to a rite in the midst of a group of monks. With the arrival of tantric masters in the sixth and seventh centuries, ritual practice changed.

The manuals of rites and meditation methods are often of imperial patronage. A new badhisattva is then created, having its place within the mandala. It is presented as having been written by Amoghavajra in the seventh century, it is in reality an apocryphal tantra made in Tang China and practiced in the Dunhuang region.

The Japanese Taishō Canon seems to take up various elements of the illustrations of this tantra.

In Hinduism

The maṇḍala is not just a structure, it is a place, a ritual area, of invocation of divinity. It is therefore the tool of many daily rituals in its form of yantra, sand painting, in Hinduism. The maṇḍala, yantra, and cakra (chakra) have certain distinctions.

The śrīcacra and other traditions often use the mandala as a meditation tool, but this is only one aspect of its uses. The "navagrahmaṇḍala" is lotus-shaped while the "bhadramaṇḍala" is square-shaped and employed primarily in ceremonies at the end of religious observances (vrata).

The pāncārtra tradition uses the "cakrājamaṇḍala" and the "navapadmamaṇḍala". The Pāncārtra Saṃhitās consider the maṇḍala to be a representation of the divine body, as well as the universe.

There are different variations of the maṇḍala principle in Hinduism. the rangoli is made of rice or flower powder, the kōlam exclusively made by women in Tamil Nadu, using intricate geometric patterns, and previously made exclusively of rice powder.

In contrast, in Kerala, kalam (or kalampattu, kalam ezhutu), also made of rice powder, are made only by men representing anthropomorphic deities. The mandana, made of geometric patterns is painted on the walls (bhitti chitra) and the floor (bhumi chitra) by women in rajasthan and in the north of Madhya Pradesh.

In Vajrayāna Buddhism

In Tantric Buddhism (vajrayāna), as in other branches of Buddhism, the mandala is a support for meditation. It is most often represented in two dimensions but there are also mandalas made in three dimensions. They are works of art of great complexity.

The meditator projects himself into the mandala with which he merges into the Taoist concepts of yīn and yáng of Chan Buddhahood. Arranged in several quarters, some deities express compassion, gentleness, others intelligence, discernment, still others energy, the strength to overcome all negative aspects of the samsaric subconscious.

The Tōji mandala, is a mandala consisting of 21 pieces, spanning 35 meters, in a preaching hall of the Tōji temple in Kyoto. A reduced scale replica with 23 pieces commissioned by Emile Guimet, produced by Yamamoto Yosuke, Masuyachô's sculptor, is kept at the Guimet Museum (Paris) and is an example of a carved mandala from the Shingon school liturgy.

This mandala comprises a set of deities arranged according to a centered and oriented plan. It allows the practitioner to progress in his religious achievements.

The offering of the mandala

Sometimes a disciple offers a mandala to his master, indicating that he is ready to receive the teaching; it is also a sign of recognition.

There are four levels of mandala offering: outer, inner, secret, top secret, or spirit nature.

This common division also applies to teachings, reading of texts and various transmissions of power (Sank.: abhisheka; Tibetan: dbang).

Finally there is a mudrā of the mandala offering, where :

the little fingers cross each other and their tips touch the tips of the thumbs of the other hand,
the two ring fingers are thus "naturally" stuck, they are pointed upwards so that they come to rest on the thumbs,
Finally the index fingers touch the opposite middle fingers, crossing each other.

Tibetan sand mandala

The construction of the mandala is in itself a spiritual practice. In the hall, other monks meditate and pray to strengthen the bodhicitta and thus bless the mandala, which will be offered to the bodhisattvas and the universe. It also keeps the yantra of Hinduism.

The mandala is then "destroyed" and the sand is gathered in front of everyone for a spiritual offering to a deity. The mandalas are also there to show that everything is ephemeral. These practices are probably inspired by the rangoli, a sand pattern drawn by Hindus.

Women draw rice powder patterns to attract good spirits in the house and religious people make divine patterns in their religious ceremonies.

In Jainism

In Jainism, an eight-petaled wheel called a siddhachakra is used in certain rituals. It is symmetrical, contains circles and is surrounded by a square. It is close to the mandalas of Hinduism and Buddhism.

In Christianity

Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179), a mystical Benedictine nun, expounded her ideas in cosmic visions using mandalas.

She is the fourth woman doctor of the Church after Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila and Teresa of Lisieux. This recognition is the highest of the Catholic Church, thus affirming the exemplary nature of Hildegard's life and writings as a model for all Catholics.

The mandala is reminiscent of the stained glass rosettes found in churches.

In psychoanalysis

Representations structured according to a double symmetry(square, circle) can appear in dreams, fantasies, drawings etc. These are spontaneous mandalas which, according to Carl Gustav Jung, represent the Self, the archetype of the psychic whole.

For the psychoanalyst, the mandala has the function of intuitively drawing attention to certain spiritual elements, by contemplating the whole and concentrating on the center.

Jung believes that the tormented unconscious can still spontaneously generate mandalas. These symbolize the descent and movement of the psyche towards the spiritual core of the being, towards the Self, leading to inner reconciliation and a new integrity of the being.


The Mandala design is used in permaculture to design Mandala gardens or vegetable gardens.


Thangka paintings usually depict symbolic mystical diagrams (mandala), deities of Tibetan Buddhism or the Bön religion, or portraits of the Dalai Lama. They are most often intended as a support for meditation. The Gimp software, as of its unstable version 2.09 (stable version 2.10), has functions for symmetries, joined textures and mandalas.

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