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Mandala (Skt. maṇḍala; T. dkyil ’khor; C. mantuluo; J. mandara; K. mandara 曼荼羅),[1] literally "circle"; the term is used in a variety of contexts within Buddhism, usually refering to a center and periphery.

Mandala can have the following meanings:[2]

  1. an integrated structure that is organized around a central unifying principle
  2. within tantric practices, the sacred environment and dwelling place of a central deity, surrounded by a retinue of subordinates, which is visualized by the practitioner[3]
  3. the two dimensional representation of this environment on cloth or paper, or made of heaps of coloured sand
  4. a three dimensional representation of this environment, traditionally made of wood
  5. an offering of the entire universe visualized as a pure land with all the inhabitants as pure beings
  6. a practitioner, and the surroundinng phenomenal world

Within Tibetan Buddhism

Contemporary scholar John Powers describes the meaning of mandala within tantric practices of Tibet:

The Sanskrit term maṇḍala (dkyil ’khor) literally means “circle,” both in the sense of a circular diagram and a surrounding retinue. In Buddhist usage the term encompasses both senses, because it refers to circular diagrams that often incorporate depictions of deities and their surroundings. The mandala represents a sacred realm—often the celestial palace of a buddha—and it contains symbols and images that illustrate aspects of the awakened psychophysical personality of the buddha and that indicate Buddhist themes and concepts. The Dalai Lama explains that the image of the mandala “is said to be extremely profound because meditation on it serves as an antidote, quickly eradicating the obstructions to liberation and the obstructions to omniscience as well as their latent predispositions.”[4] The obstructions to liberation and the obstructions to omniscience are the two main types of mental afflictions that inhibit one’s attainment of buddhahood. The maṇḍala serves as a representation of an awakened mind that is free of all such obstacles, and in the context of tantric practice it is a powerful symbol of the state that meditators are trying to attain.[5]



  1. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), entry for maṇḍala
  2. RW icon height 18px.png Mandala
  3. Powers, John. Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2007, p. 254
  4. The quote is from Tantra in Tibet: The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra - Vol. 1, p. 77
  5. Powers, John. Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2007, p. 262-263

Further reading

  • Brauen, Martin. (1997). The Mandala, Sacred circle in Tibetan Buddhism Serindia Press, London.
  • Bucknell, Roderick & Stuart-Fox, Martin (1986). The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism. Curzon Press: London. ISBN 0-312-82540-4
  • Cammann, Schuyler V. (1950). Suggested Origin of the Tibetan Mandala Paintings The Art Quarterly, Vol. 8, Detroit.
  • Cowen, Painton (2005). The Rose Window, London and New York, (offers the most complete overview of the evolution and meaning of the form, accompanied by hundreds of colour illustrations.)
  • Crossman, Sylvie and Barou, Jean-Pierre (1995). Tibetan Mandala, Art & Practice The Wheel of Time, Konecky and Konecky.
  • Dalai Lama and Tsongkhapa (2016). The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra, Volume One, Revised Edition, Snow Lion.
  • Fontana, David (2005). "Meditating with Mandalas", Duncan Baird Publishers, London.
  • Gold, Peter (1994). Navajo & Tibetan Sacred Wisdom: The Circle of the Spirit. ISBN 0-89281-411-X.  Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International.
  • Powers, John (2007). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Ithaca: Snow Lion, p. 262-265
  • Tucci,Giuseppe (1973). The Theory and Practice of the Mandala trans. Alan Houghton Brodrick, New York, Samuel Weisner.
  • Vitali, Roberto (1990). Early Temples of Central Tibet London, Serindia Publications.
  • Wayman, Alex (1973). "Symbolism of the Mandala Palace" in The Buddhist Tantras Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass.

External links