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.