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mandala meditation

Mandala as Interior Practice
A Mandala is a patterned geometric icon, drawn to assist the person contemplating its sacred images to achieve unity (Sanskrit: Adi; Chn.: Bu-er 不二; Engl. “non-duality”) of mind, heart and body with the Absolute, symbolized in the mandala’s very center. The goal of this contemplative process, to achieve awareness of Absolute Presence, is fulfilled by the simultaneous use of the mind (by viewing the mandala images), the heart (by orally chanting the mantra “seed” words), and the body (by using mudra hand dance), while contemplating the Mandala’s images. Tantric Buddhism, the ritual meditations of Daoism, and the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, all teach that the total body (not just the mind alone) must feel, taste, and experience the “sacred” in unity, if prayer is to be effective, ie, lead to compassion, forgiveness, and empathy for others. The basic goal of contemplating a mandala, therefore, is that mind, mouth, and body experience the “sacred” by visualizing the mandala images, chanting appropriate mantra, and performing the assigned mudra, in unison.
There are two, basic mandala, in the Tantric Buddhist system: the Lotus Mandala (Gharba Datu; Chn. Lianhua 蓮花, Jpn Rengei) and the Vajra Mandala (Vajra Dhatu; Chn. Jingang 金剛, Jpn Kongo). Images of the two Mandala are shown here:

 

 

 

Mandala are drawn on cloth, as murals on temple walls, made into 3 dimensional gilded bronze, with statues representing the sacred figures, and in sand. When drawn in sand, the mandala is destroyed on completion; the sand is distributed to the faithful in jars, or swept away into a river or field. Whether in sand or in mental image, the mandala is always “destroyed” or emptied out of mind and body, as a third, “apophtaic” or “kenotic” step before realizing “union.” Thus, in the Tantric Buddhist, ritual Daoist, and Ignatian contemplative systems, the process of realizing “mystic” union must be done in 4 stages, ie, purification, “illumination” by means of sacred image, the emptying out of all images (kenosis), and then absolute union without image. The Daoist classic Zhuangzi calls this step “heart fasting, sitting in forgetfulness.” Only after all images, even the most sacred, and all desires, even for “perfection” or “illumination” are emptied, can absolute presence be realized. This process is described more fully in a forthcoming book “Mystic, Shaman, Oracle, Priest,” which at last is in the final process of editing, before being sent to UH press.

michael saso 9-21-12 from downtown Los Angeles,
emptied of all sacred images of Kyoto and Beijing.

4 thoughts on “mandala meditation

  1. Michael,

    Many thanks for the illustrations, explanations, and spiritual interpretations of mandalas.
    You gathering from different spiritual traditions to explain them, creates its own unique, patterned icon.

    John Lounibos

  2. Thank you, John, now I must write a 2nd post showing how 3 of the protector Light Kings are required to “invoke”, “unite”, and “become one with” while doing the Lotus, Vajra, and Agni-hotra tantric rites. They are respectively “gangshen-Gundari” to purify the self and enter the mandala, Acala/Fudo Myo-o to enter the Lotus, and Trailokya Vijaya (Josange’) to enter the Vajra mandala. One actually “puts on” the aspects, literally becoming in the imagination the image of these spirits, before entering he mandala, then totally destroying the image on coming out of the mandala and re-entering the world of forgiving human compassion. The 3 images are seen below the central square of the Lotus Mandala, I will post them shortly.

  3. You probably know this, but on two occasions in Honolulu, once by Tibetans and once by Bhutanese, sand mandalas were created by monks at the Academy of Art. There was some furor when someone wanted to preserve the Tibetan mandala (perhaps encasing it in epoxy) at the Academy. No way, the monks discarded it in Manoa stream. I was privileged to be at the Bhutanese ceremony and received a bit of the sand after it was swept up. (That ceremony was quite interesting in itself.) I gave half of it to someone whose birthday was that particular day, and kept the rest for myself, preserved in a bronze hulu I brought home from Wudangshan that also, oddly, contains a dessicated cicada. Perhaps they all contain cicadas. I didn’t discover that until much later.

    Aloha nui loa!

    1. Thank you so much, Sandy! very interesting and significant details! I am not sure about cicadas, however. The sand can be purchased at the Sajya monastery, for a small insignificant fee, and brought home in a clay jar.

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