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Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala

Tibetan Mandala is the most unique and exquisite religious art in Tibetan Buddhism. During large-scale ritual activities, the lamas in the temple use millions of sand grains to depict the grand world of the Buddhist country. This world constructed from fine sand is called a mandala, also known as a “sand mandala”. In the Tantric culture of Tibetan Buddhism, the Tibetan mandala symbolizes the origin of the structure of the universe, and its center is the dwelling place of the gods. This process may last for several days or even several months. However, the precise Buddhist sand art created by the lamas with great efforts is not used to show the world its beauty. The world depicted in the sand will be swept away after a ceremony without hesitation, and it will disappear in an instant. And those sand will be put into bottles and poured into rivers.

To put it simply, sand mandalas are a sacred and ancient Tibetan Buddhist art form. ‘Mandala’ is called dul-tson-kyil-khor in Tibetan, which means mandala of colored sand powder. In Sanskrit, Mandala means circle. If we look a little deep into its religious linkage, ‘mandala’ is the term used to represent harmony and wholeness at the heart of the Tibetan Buddhist universe. It’s originated 2,500 years ago, the Buddha himself taught his disciples to make the altar of the sand mandala. This exquisite religious art has been passed down from generation to generation. In the eleventh century, it spread from North India to Tibet and had been preserved till today.

What is Tibetan Sand Mandala?

“Mandala” originated from Indian Buddhism and is used as a map where the Buddhist deities and relatives gather.

According to Tibetan Buddhism tradition, in order to prevent the intrusion of demons or non-Buddhists, practitioners used to draw a boundary circle or build an earthen altar at the practice site and set a Tathāgata statue on it. This represents Buddha and his true merits and virtues that are perfect and full without any deficiency. Later, the altar set and the boundary line were called mandalas.

The mandala paints the Buddhist ritual implements, the deities’ palace, and the structure of the Buddha-field, constructed in three-dimensional or two-dimensional geometric shapes.

The mandala symbolizes the so-called “governance”. The opposite of “governance” is “chaos”. Severe weather, physical illness, desolate land, barbaric people, and non-Buddhist country are all “chaos.” By building a “mandala”, which can represent almost all real or spiritual things, such as a human body, a temple, a palace, a city, a piece of land, an idea, an illusion, or a political structure, “chaos” will change to “governance”. As per the above Buddhist tradition, everything in the world is generated from a mandala model, but it is just invisible to naked eyes. For example, Tibet can be considered a “mandala” centered in Lhasa and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Similarly, Lhasa can be considered a “mandala” centered on the Jokhang Temple. The Jokhang Temple itself can also be considered as a “mandala” centered on the main altar. The political structure of Tibet is a “mandala” too, centered on the Dalai Lama and surrounded by other living Buddhas.

In Tibetan Buddhism Tantric practice, a mandala is an object that is commonly used for meditation. The image of the mandala becomes fully internalized and can then be summoned and contemplated at will as a clear and vivid visualized image. This mandala represents the pure surroundings of a Buddha.

According to different Buddhist tantric traditions, the structure and geometry itself, and the pattern portrayed within the mandala are different and extremely complex, tantric Buddhists afterward used gold, stone, wood, clay (soil), and sand to paint mandalas in different styles and sizes. This mandala represents the universe (cosmos). It is displayed in the Buddha Hall for the mandala offerings, in the form of thangkas and murals. There are exquisite mandalas painted on the walls or ceilings of the Tibetan Buddhist temples. A fixed pattern with specific symbolic meaning must be respected when creating a mandala, and the specification and scale of Buddha statues are clearly stipulated, and they must not be changed to avoid reducing their sacredness.

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