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Tablua Rasa mandala by artist/astrologer Chris Flisher

Tabula Rasa Mandala by artist/astrologer Chris Flisher

Buddha:Son of Lumbini and World Teacher
Tablua Rasa mandala by artist/astrologer Chris Flisher
Painted mandalas by artist Chris Flisher
Mandalas at Work
Mandalas around the world
|Tibetan Mandalas |Carl Jung and Mandalas| Mandala Intention|Mandalas in Architecture| Lesson

The focus for this web page is to introduce the mandala and how it has been used in Buddhist history and how the concept of the mandala was and still is employed in Buddhism.

The study of mandalas may take one all over the world due to the universal use of the circle, the scope of diversity in how mandalas are created and their intended purpose. Mandalas in the Buddhist tradition are interspersed throughout all of the art and architecture. most people are familiar with the Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas which have created much interest in the whole study of mandalas.

Yet the word and initial practice of making mandalas come from India. The sanskrit word "mandala" means circle. The initial design of the mandala is a circle with often repeating patterns of squares and circles drawn inside.

It is how the mandala is created, the spiritual quality of the mandala and the overall transformation of the mandala to an idea of healing, compassion and even enlightenment are the other aspects that one may not be able to measure or even define.

"The form of the Buddhist mandala is architectonic, the square section being the platform upon which sits a circular temple. The square represents material space with gateways at the four quarters of the earth, while the circle focuses upon its timeless center." Architectural Record

When I make a mandala I usually start with a circle and then divide the circle into equal parts geometrically. The typical mandala starts with a division into 8 equally shaped section each being approximately 45 degrees in size. Then repeating squares or circles are repeated in the pattern.

But for entrance to this exciting art, maybe the use of Suzanne Fincher's book of mandalas for tracing or coloring is an easy place to start. Students who have difficulty coloring will enjoy the large repeating designs.

Mandala Book

Stained glass window Chartres
Christian version for mandala,stained glass window in Chartres.

Islamic Mandala
Islamic art in a mandala form.
Notice 6 point star in the middle surrounding a circle.


Tabula Rasa mandala by artist Chris Flisher
Modern style of mandala by Massachusetts artist/astrologer
Chris Flisher
I have had mandala classes with him.

The Tibetan sand mandalas are some of the most well known representations of this art form infused with beliefs. The mandalas are also presented in the painted thangka images and have permeated most of Buddhist culture and belief systems. One circumambulates, circles, a large stupa when in a prayerful meditation.

The best known form sand mandala is the Kalachakra mandala, for which colored sand grains are painstakingly placed. This sand drawing represents a 3-dimensional palace of which every single detail has a symbolic meaning.

A mandala is a symbolic representation of many aspects of a specific tantra (Hindu or Buddhist ritual or text). In the Kalachakra tantra, all elements of the mandala refer to the universe (outer Kalachakra), the body and mind (inner Kalachakra) and the practice (initiation, generation and completion stages).

Every detail of the mandala, from each deity to every adornments of the building, refers to time and the universe (Outer Kalachakra), physical and mental aspects of Kalachakra and ourselves (Inner Kalachakra), and also to aspects of the practice (Alternative Kalachakra).

It should be noted that in the Kalachakra tradition, an unusual order of directions is followed in the description of the mandala.

As usual (in Tibetan artwork), the Eastern direction (black) is directed to the viewer, or at the bottom of an image, but when going around the mandala, a somewhat complicated order is followed: clockwise from East to Southwest, clockwise from North to Northeast, and finally clockwise from West to Northwest. International Kalachakra Network

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Navajo Mandala: Sunface

kalachakra Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala
Kalachakra Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala . The Tibetan word for mandala is kyilkhor, which means "center and surrounding environment"

From Carl Jung, Swiss psychologist, regarding the significance of the mandala was provided:

"[mandalas] ... are all based on the squaring of a circle. Their basic motif is the premonition of a centre of personality, a kind of central point within the psyche, to which everything is related, by which everything is arranged, and which is itself a source of energy.

The energy of the central point is manifested in the almost irresistible compulsion and urge to become what one is, just as every organism is driven to assume the form that is characteristic of its nature, no matter what the circumstances.

This centre is not felt or thought of as the ego but, if one may so express it, as the self. Although the centre is represented by an innermost point, it is surrounded by a periphery containing everything that belongs to the self -- the paired opposites that make up the total personality.

This totality comprises consciousness first of all, then the personal unconscious, and finally an indefinitely large segment of the collective unconscious whose archetypes are common to all mankind." p. 73

Concerning Mandala Symbolism, C.G. Jung, Zurich, 1950 and Netreach.net

The significance of the influence of Carl Jung upon the world of psychology and the understanding of the soul is universal. He even stated in his own autobiography how Tibetan Buddhism helped him to reach an understanding about the inner and exterior environment for the human condition.



Jungian Mandala
From the C.G. Jung collection: representing
the Universe of the Self

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What is the intention for the Tibetan Buddhist mandala and what does it all mean?

The sand mandala constructed by Tibetan Buddhists is a floor plan or foundation for a meditative visualization that becomes a 3-D image! It is geometrically designed and special attention is given to the balance of the design while also considering the spiritual intent for the creation of the object. Once the mandala is created is becomes a living deity and it is through the Eastern Gate (black one) that the viewer enters into the mystical meaning of the tantra.

There are many kinds of sand mandalas that may be created depicting the meaning of the tantra and that is why one will see many different images of mandalas but all sharing the harmonious circle shape around a square.

grid marks for mandala
Snapping and measuring the chalk grid lines
for the foundation of the mandala.
Based on sacred geometry designs.
tools of the trade for sand mandala
Tools of the trade for the monk mandala artists. Colored sand is made from crushed rock from the Himalayas, most likely marble or limestone.
slowly tapping sand into place on mandala
Slow process of tapping the colored sand in the precise place. For the monks this is a part of their religious belief sand a chance to be with the deity.

completed sand Tibetan style mandala.
Completed sand mandala at Art of Compassion Festival; Lincoln-Sudbury Regional HS, Massachusetts, 2008.
Breaking the energy of the mandala.
Breaking the energy of the mandala.

sweeping sand up of the mandala, circular and clockwise motion.
Sweeping the mandala in a circular motion.

sand in pile
Final look of the mandala after energy has been cut and sand swept into a small pile.
Monks carrying sand to final place, a nearby river
Monks carrying the sand from the mandala in an urn to a river for its final resting place . The pouring of the sand into the river is an intention for blessing the river.

Mind mandala

Kalachakra Mind Mandala


kalachakra Mandala Kalachakra in color Mandala in 3D image
Thangka painting of the Mind Mandala.
The Kalachakra Mandala is like a huge palace, with 5 distinct floor levels. It should be noted that in the Kalachakra tradition, an unusual order of directions is followed in the description of the mandala. As usual (in Tibetan artwork), the Eastern direction (black) is directed to the viewer, or at the bottom of an image, but when going around the mandala, a somewhat complicated order is followed: clockwise from East to Southwest, clockwise from North to Northeast, and finally clockwise from West to Northwest. Image is a 3D-view of the Mind Mandala. All ornamentation is left out to create a clearer image, but note that even the ornaments do have profound symbolic meaning. The deities are represented as cylinders in the correct color. Deity pairs are represented as two half-cylinders.
Images of a 'real' 3D Kalachakra mandala made in the USA by Arjia Rinpoche, click on left image for a larger image view.

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Mandalas in Architecture

Samye monastery, Tibet
Samye Monastery, Tibet (775-779 C.E.)


Aerial view of Samye Monastery
Aerial view of Samye Monastery

Samye Monastery (775-779 C.E.) was built under the time of the 5th Dali Lama. It is the first monastery built in Tibet and reflects the mandala in an environmental setting and in accordance with the Buddist conception of the cosmos. Before the land was broken it had to be tamed of the evil spirits and negative energies, and Padmasambhava performed a ritual dance which made the grounds ready for the auspicious task of building a mandala shaped monastery that would mediate a physical bodily approach to enlightenment.

The four surrounding walls at Samye correspond to the iron mountain that rims the golden earth. The four buildings, one in each cardinal direction, correspond to the four main continents. The intermediate directions are marked by four stupas which seem to indicate the would mountain Meru, while two smaller buildings on the north-south axis symbolize the sun and moon. the central temple with its square ground plan, two courtyards laid out around the inner temple, and four gate like extensions clearly correspond to the palace. And all of this has to be imagined on the world mountain and in the mandala. (page 75, Mandala, Martin Brauen)

Padmasambhava was a historical teacher who is said to have finally converted Tibet to Buddhism. He was a renowned scholar, meditator, and magician, and his mantra suggests his rich and diverse nature.

Samye Monastery entrance
Samye Monastery entrance

Borobudur Java, Indonesia
First recorded image of Borobodur after the jungle was cleared away in 1873.

Borobudur Temple
How big is Borobodur? Click on the image and see at the website.

Flying Aspara relief on Borobudur
Flying Aspara relief on Borobodur panel.

Borobodur Temple Compound is located in Java, Indonesia and was declared a UNESCO site in the 1970s. The shrine and Buddhist temple was constructed in (750 to 842 C.E.) from manual labor in the jungles of Java.

Today the site is a major tourist attraction in Java and also a destination for Buddhist pilgrims. And if one understands Mahayanna Buddhism, then this site will be greatly appreciated.

The temple was built with the intention for one to circumambulate and climb the 9 levels to the very top where small stupas are located along with a statue of the Buddha. Intention when climbing Borobodur? This is a mandala that one experiences with all their senses.

Borobodur constitutes a three dimensional mandala and at the same time symbolizes the world mountain, or more precisely, the uppermost stories of the universe, those of the gods. For the Buddhist practitioner, the temple is primarily a processional way.

Using the colorful diagram on this page there are three main levels listed: Kamadhatu (the world of desires), Rupadhatu (the world of forms), and Arupdhatu (the formless world). The serious Buddhist will understand that each layer one circumambulates and ascends refers to the levels of life that each one of us must encounter and eventually ascend. The final stupa on the top reaches high into the cosmos and the enlightenment.

An excellent image below shows the actual level of height that one ascends while on the temple, over 30 meters:

Borobudur cross section of temple


Borobodur floor plan
Basic mandala design with circle interior and then squared repeatedly. The colored design to the right is another view of the Borobodur mandala form.

  Borobudur mandala format


Boudhanath Stupa Katmandu, Nepal


Boudhanath Stupa and Tibetan prayer flags

Boudhanath Stupa located in Katmandu, Nepal is the largest stupa complete outside of Tibet and conforms to mandala models used in Tibetan Buddhism.

Boudhanath was built in 5th century.

From above, Boudhanath Stupa looks like a giant mandala, or diagram of the Buddhist cosmos. And as in all Tibetan mandalas, four of the Dhyani Buddhas mark the cardinal points, with the fifth, Vairocana, enshrined in the center (in the white hemisphere of the stupa). The five Buddhas also personify the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether), which are represented in the stupa's architecture.

Boudhanath Stupa is closely associated with the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Padmapani), whose 108 forms are depicted in sculptures around the base. The mantra of Avalokiteshvara - Om Mani Padme Hum - is carved on the prayer wheels beside the images of Avalokiteshvara around the base of the stupa.

The base of the stupa consists of three large platforms, decreasing in size. These platforms symbolize Earth, and here you can look out at the mountains while listening to the chants of the devout doing kora, walking around the stupa praying.

Boudhanath is topped with a square tower bearing the omnipresent Buddha eyes on all four sides.

Instead of a nose is a question-mark-type symbol that is actually the Nepali character for the number 1, symbolizing unity and the one way to reach enlightenment—through the Buddha's teachings. Above this is the third eye, symbolizing the wisdom of the Buddha.

Surrounding Boudhanath Stupa are streets and narrow alleys lined with colorful homes, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and street vendors. Click on the images to find many travel sites that feature Boudhanath

Mandala painted on ceiling of Boudhanath Stupa
Mandala painted on ceiling of Boudhanath Stupa, Katmandu, Nepal

Aerial view of stupa Boudhantha, Katmandu, Nepal
Boudhanath Stupa, Katmandu, Nepal
Aerial view in a mandala form.
Largest stupa outside of Tibet

Sunset at Boudhanath
Boudhanath Stupa." According to legend, Boudhanath Stupa was built during the 5th century AD, by an an old poultry woman who asked the king for land to construct a shrine to the Buddha.

The king agreed, and offered her as much land as she could cover with the skin of a water buffalo. The woman proceeded to cut a buffalo hide into thin strips, and placed them end to end to form a huge circumference.

The king realized that he had been tricked by the old woman, but he adhered to his word, and the stupa was constructed according to these dimensions.

Nowadays, the stupa is the most popular site for Buddhists in Nepal, and throughout the day pilgrims can be seen circumambulating the structure chanting mantras.

It is especially spectacular at night when adorned with butter lamps. Remember to walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction and also to spin the prayer wheels clockwise.

There is a small entry fee (rps 150) to enter the stupa area. This can be waived for guests of hotels located at the other side of the stupa." Boudhanath-Wikitravel

Suggested Lesson:
The strong use of mandalas in Buddhist and Tibetan architecture lead one to compare the over all idea of a sacred place and the architecture used.

The following attached lesson is Architecture of Sacred Places PDF, concentrates on some of the major locations in the world for worship in major religions. Students will understand more about a site and how it is treated as a sacred site along with the theory of the mandala.

Furthermore, the project works best when the religions have been covered first but one is free to try it any way possible. Not all locations suggested are shaped like a mandala but the effect of the circle is present in most architectural choices.

A way to extend the project would be to research the major locations that are frequented by pilgrims of a religion and to learn why their pilgrimage is a sacred walk from one sacred place to another. Click on the map to the right for a link to more information about Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

There are copious amounts of websites for further research about sacred sites and the architecture involved.

Suggested book resources with great pictures of mandalas:

Brauen, Martin. Mandala: Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism. New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2009. Print.

Bryant, Barry, and Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho. The Wheel of Time Sand Mandala: Visual Scripture of Tibetan Buddhism. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2003. Print.

Cunningham, Bailey. Mandala: Journey to the Center. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2002. Print.

Moacanin, Radmila. The Essence of Jung's Psychology and Tibetan Buddhism: Western and Eastern Paths to the Heart. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003. Print.

O-rgyan-ʼjigs-med-chos-kyi-dbaṅ-po, and Patrul Rinpoche. The Words of My Perfect Teacher / Kunzang Lama'i Shelung ; Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. Boston: Shambhala, 1998. Print.

Skinner, Stephen. Sacred Geometry: Deciphering the Code. New York: Sterling Pub., 2006. Print.

Map of Buddhist historical and pilgrimage sites.

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This site was created by Diana T. Mackiewicz at the NEH Summer Institute "Literatures, Religions, and Arts of the Himalayan Region," held at the College of the Holy Cross, Summer 2011.