“The Sanskrit term ‘mandala’ (dkhyl khor in Tibetan language) literally means circle, both in the sense of a circular diagram and a surrounding retinue” (Powers, 2007, p. 262). In Buddhist vocabulary, the term encompasses both contexts because it refers to circular diagrams that often incorporate illustrations of deities and their environs. Mandalas are a type of tantrik symbol, conveying a domain of sacredness, frequently portraying the celestial palace of a Buddha. They represent underlying philosophies with profound significance in Tibetan Buddhism. The symbols and images in a mandala describe features of the awakened psychophysical personality of the Buddha, and Buddhist themes and concepts (Powers, 2007, p.262). Generally, there are four types of mandalas: two outer mandalas made from powdered colors and created on a flat surface or painted on textiles, those formed in meditation, and the inner mandala depicting the body of the guru/ teacher or that of the self (Brauen, 1992).
Mandala is a Sanskrit word in which ‘manda’ means essence and ‘la’ means container; thus the term translates into a container of essence (Fleming, 2006). The Tibetan term for mandala is ‘dkhyl ‘khor’, with ‘khor’ defined as ‘that which encircles’ and ‘dkhyl’ meaning ‘around a center’; they can be two or three dimensional and constructed of various materials. The sand mandala is believed to have been transmitted to Tibet from India in the eleventh century (Fleming, 2006). Some who have studied the historical nature of the mandala have conjectured that the mandala diagram arose in Tibet or China in ‘pre-lamist’ times (Brauen, 1992).
Thus, “the mandala serves as a representation of an awakened mind that is free of all such obstacles” (Powers, 2007, p.263). In the sphere of tantrik practice, it is a powerful symbol of the state that meditators attempt to achieve. Thesis Statement: The purpose of this paper is to investigate the concept of mandala and the different types of mandalas. Their religious and philosophical meaning in Tibetan Buddism will be discussed, with an emphasis on the sand mandala. The Mandala in Tibetan Buddhism The four types of mandalas consist of two outer mandalas which are made from powdered colors or painted on textiles. The third are the mandalas formed in meditation, and finally the body is the fourth form of mandala. A further form of mandala exists in the three-dimensional type, which are difficult to understand because spatiality is the most striking feature of the basic structure of mandalas. The Dharmamandala Sutra conveys the existince of “gold, silver, shell, stone, horn, wood and clay, besides those painted on cloth or made of colored powder” (Buddhist Society, 1996, p.160). Three-dimensional mandalas have been discovered in numerous places where Tibetan Buddhism spread, including the Potala in Lhasa where there is a Kalacakra mandala; the Xuguang Ge of Pule Si in Chengde, China; and Zangdog Palri Monastery in Kalimpong, India. The intrinsic three-dimensionality of all mandalas is seen in the depiction of a three dimensional mandala. This is not a Kalacakra mandala, but a Zhi Khro mandala with one hundred and ten peaceful and wrathful deities of the intermediate state known as bar do. These are the deities that appear to the deceased immediately upon entering the sphere of death. Two-dimensional mandalas may either be painted