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Tibetan Buddhist Mandala – A Very Interesting Story Behind

Tibetan Budhist MandalaI used to talk about Tibetan Buddhist mandala before and also about their rituals, but today I’ve decided to go a little more deep into it and bring more details, because it’s really worth it.

Let’s see together the path monks have to follow to receive the blessing of the gods and the wholeness of mandala.

What happens before the mandala ritual

First of all, let’s see what happens before the ritual begins. Before I started my thorough searches about mandala rituals, I didn’t use to think that it is such a complex and accurate work that consists not only in the effective creation of the mandala, but also, there are lots of preparations before.

The ritual is made to initiate monks or call deities as an aid to meditation. It takes place in a Buddhist monastery only four times per year and only four monks are chosen to create the sacred mandala.

Before they get permission to create the sacred mandala, the new monks are involved in complex preparations as technical artistic training, philosophical study and visualization exercises, because everything has to be just perfect. Mistakes are not allowed. All these preparations last up to three years.

Tibetan Sand MandalaAfter these long and complex preparation the monks have to spend two more weeks meditating in absolute silence and loneliness, then they commit a series of purification rituals, so they can visualize the mandala in their mind eye.

When they are ready, all the monks gather inside the monastery and an initiation ritual takes place. They read and sing from sacred texts, while the four monks trail the basic lines of mandala using ropes soaked in a sort of white paint (the base of the sacred mandala is a wood stand). In other cases there is a specific wood stand which has all the aid lines already engraved on it. There are also cases when the monks use rulers and pencils to trail even more detailed lines. It depends on of each monastery rules and of the creation’s purpose.

The best definition for “meditation”

How the sacred mandala ritual is based mainly on meditation and how most people are very confused about this term, I decided to give the best definition to make the whole concept more clear.

“Mandala ritual” and “meditation” became very common terms in the last period, but not everyone has a clear image about these concepts. I used to be very confused as well for a long time, until I decided to do more searches about it, because I was very excited about the idea of meditation.

So “meditation” doesn’t mean “contemplation” or “thinking”. It is a way to educate and discipline our mind and our inner self. In school happens the same thing: we educate ourselves, but from the outside. We learn about everything around us, but we don’t learn too much about ourselves.

First of all, the best position for meditation is sitting down, have the back straight and the eyes closed. To begin there are a few steps to follow:

  • find a quiet place (even the air temperature is important; it doesn’t have to be too hot or too cold, but just perfect for your body)
  • relax all the body muscles (only the back and the neck muscles remain tense) – it is not a comfortable position at the beginning, but if you choose to persevere, you will get used to it)
  • focus on breathing – don’t try to make it regular, don’t force it, just let it go naturally; as you let it go naturally, it will become regular; try to become one with your breathing, just enjoying the simple and natural fact that you can breathe
  • try to have control of your mind – of course your mind is going to overthink, especially if it is your first time you try to meditate, because this is what mind does: have thousands and thousands of thoughts per day and if you never tried to discover it, to observe it, to be aware of it, of course it is always against you, and makes you have lots of reactions, due to lots of thoughts. The most important thing to understand is that a thought is just a thought. We don’t have to react after every thought and make a whole reality because of it.

The Best Definition For MeditationMeditation doesn’t consists in having no thoughts. It consists in having thoughts, but just letting them pass like you are the sky and your thoughts are clouds. If you have one thought and you go into it you will give birth to other thoughts linked to the first one. And this is how your mind tricks you. As an example, let’s say you have this thought: “Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday.”, and you let your mind go: “I should buy her a perfume.”, “Or maybe a dress.”, “Or even better, I’ll do a handmade for her.”, and you know what’s next, more and more thoughts that never stop.

All you have to do is trying to stop at the first thought without reacting. Of course your mind is gonna have another one, about something else. You let this one pass as well. Then comes another one. After you do this for a while, you will notice that your mind starts to calm down and your thoughts become fewer and fewer.

Now that your mind is more quiet, just try to feel yourself, as an essence, not as a body, not as a mind, like you just have met yourself and you want to know more about yourself. Notice how you breathe, notice how your thoughts are passing and slowly go deep into yourself. Don’t use words to describe what you find there, just feel everything like words do not exist.

If it happens that you follow a thought, but then you remember you just have to let it go, it is ok. This is what happens at the beginning and it is perfectly normal. As you do this exercise every day, your mind will be more calm, you will truly understand what meditation is and after you do this for a while you will notice some important changes. You will mature so all the immature things like complexes and fear will disappear. You’ll become more calm, you’ll have control of your self, you will start to love yourself for what you truly are and the most important, your mind is gonna be rested and refreshed so you will be more creative, more inspired, and you will easily focus on “here” and “now”. Actually this is the true life: when you enjoy, feel and understand everything so intense and real without any prejudices. Just give yourself some time.

If you want to know more about meditation, read my other post: What Is Meditation About. You will find the complete definition, the real meaning and the best video guide.

The mandala ritual itself

Tibetan Mandala RitualAfter the monks chant, the mandala ritual starts, by making a sand point which is the center of the mandala. This point represents a deity or a purpose of the piece’s creation (blessing).

The four monks chosen start to fill the mandala with colorful sand from the center to the outside. They use specific tools like metal funnels and metal rods to make the sand flow very accurate. The mandala is divided in four quadrants, so every monk has its own quadrant and sometimes every monk gets an assistant which fills the patterns with colored sand, while the main monk makes the outlines.

The colors they use are arranged according to the sacred texts and every color mean something really important:

  • White – openness and faith
  • Yellow – humility and effort
  • Red – power, the life force and memory
  • Blue – wisdom, infinity, purity and life
  • Green – nature, the balance between man and the earth, meditation
  • Gold – sun and fire
  • Black – darkness

The monks wait each other so they work together like one and this is another thing that describes the unicity and the perfection of the mandala and its creation.

This work takes days or even weeks, it depends on how big and what is the purpose of the mandala creation. All this time, monks work without respite every day for hours with scrupulousness and infinite endurance.

What happens after the mandala ritual

After the monks finish the masterpiece, they look at the mandala and meditate together once again. Then they brush all the sand, they put it in a vessel and they throw it into a river. The river goes to the ocean, so the blessings are spread everywhere around the world.

They pray for all the people around the world and for the earth’s health. They work hard and accurate, but they never complain. Actually they do it with absolute pure love and after that share this love with the whole world. Isn’t this the biggest sign of human wisdom and maturity?

Tibetan Mandala ritual   Sand Mandala Ritual

The beautiful meaning of the mandala sand spreading

It is just amazing how the monks go through all these preparations of years to make the most beautiful and perfect artwork in the world, and at the end they just brush it away and throw it into a river.

The Tibetan Buddhist monks want to demonstrate the impermanence and the inconsistency of every human effort, no matter how big it is. This way they show us how unimportant is the material world. They don’t use the physical beauty from the mandala, they use the spiritual symbolism, its infinite and powerful energy and more than that: they share it with the world.

Sand Mandala

I hope you enjoyed my post and if you have anything to add or ask about the mandala ritual, feel free to leave a comment below and I will be more than happy to make discussions with you. Blessings!

Anna

6 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing with us this great post on Tibetan Buddhist Mandala.This post is really interesting because I didn’t have any insight about Buddhist.

    I found Buddhism a very organised religion which gives values to meditation which is very popular these days.

    I enjoyed reading this post for sure and this ritual is amazing as it teaches much about working together for positive result.

    • Hello, Julienne! I have always thought the Buddhist teachings are the best, most of all because they encourage love, compassion and self-insight. Meditation is another concept of Buddhism and thanks to it people have the chance to became wise and self-aware. I’m happy it became so popular!

      I’m happy my post was useful to you and thank you so much for your comment!

  2. A beautiful post about the mandala ritual and meditation. I’ve never tried meditation but you explain the process of meditating very accurately and with abundant detail. I was always fascinated by the Buddhist monks and I truly believe they have found their true selves. I believe that we are here to overcome and being able to control our mind and live in peace and harmony with the universe. We are one and God is everywhere including in us. What I wanted to ask is this: you said that they perform this ritual no more than 4 times per year but they prepare 3 years for each ritual, making sure that everything is perfect. These two sentences do not seem to fit. Did I miss something?

    • Hello, John! You’re right about everything! We are more than we think and I keep remembering this to people, because we often forget about it. Peaceful mind, harmony and balance are our main and natural goals and meditation help us to achieve those.

      The 3 years preparation is for the new monks. They have to prepare before they do their first mandala. The monks with experience spend only two weeks to prepare. 

      I am happy you had good time reading my post and thank you so much for your comment!

  3. I enjoyed your description of the rituals and the meaning of the Mandala construction. However, unless you are a Tibetan monk with unlimited free time to engage in this exercise, I can not see how those of us who are of different religions and live engaged with people can benefit from this ritual. However, your description of the proper steps for meditation was very clear and useful. The benefits of meditation can not be disputed and it can be practiced by all regardless of religion or station in life.I would like to see more of your articles on meditation.

  4. Hello, Carlos! I’m happy you found my article interesting! 

    Actually for the Buddhist monks, the ritual of making the mandala is a meditation. There are many ways to meditate and the most important thing isn’t how you do it, but what are you focusing on.

    The steps I mentioned are only to help you understand the concept, because most of the time it is really hard to explain it and people get confused, even if, in essence, it is the simplest thing in the world. 

    Meditation means: FOCUS ON NOW AND HERE. But when you meditate for the first time, it is difficult to do that in any circumstances. That’s why you need a quiet place and a certain position of the body (plus the other conditions I’ve mentioned on the post), because lots of thoughts are coming in your head when you are involved in doing something.

    But if you meditate everyday, you will see that at a certain point, you will be able to fully enjoy the moment “NOW” and the place “HERE” almost in any conditions. Actually this is the goal of meditation: making us understand what “to live” really means. It is a deep concept and to fully understand it, you have to feel it. 

    Often, the most real things can’t be explained or proved, while the other ones can and because of this we live in a world full of confusion!

    When I want to meditate in any circumstance I remember this phrase: “Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God, while peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” -Alan Watts

    This helps me remember that I have to focus only on what I’m doing in that moment and nothing else.

    If I go out for a running in the morning, I feel that moment, the running, the air, everything that appears in that moment and when it disappears I don’t see it and I don’t feel it anymore, because it isn’t there anymore. It comes another moment and I have to be there, because it will desappear as well and I will regret if I’m not enjoying it in the moment “now”. 

    And this is how we get “problems” in life: we don’t appreciate what we have and we don’t live in the moment “now”.

    Here’s another story that made me realise how important is to appreciate even the fact that I can breath: 

    I was in a hospital after an operation and I was looking through the window and I was wondering: “How lucky those people out there are! They can walk, they can feel the fresh air, while I’m here, I can’t even walk and I have to breath this stale air.” Those people were in a rush, they didn’t know how lucky they were. Then I realised that I used to live the same way and I started to see the real life, I understood what “to live” means. And all I want is to share this with people, because it is too awesome to keep it only for myself!

    Sorry for the long comment. I got caught up…

    I hope it will be useful to you and thank you so much for your comment! 🙂

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