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Introduction to Mandalas


In Tibetan Buddhism, mandalas come in two varieties; they can represent the conventional universe (see the image left), as it is used in the Mandala Offering Ritual, where one symbolically offers the entire universe. During the offering one recites mandala offering prayers.

The type of mandala we will explore here represents (amongst many things) the dwelling place of a specific Buddha-form or deity. Mandalas are actually 3-Dimensional buildings, and in the Tibetan tradition, they are made as thangkas (scroll-paintings), wall paintings, sand-drawings, and 3D models made of e.g. wood or metal.

In the centre of the mandala one usually finds the main Buddha-form of the specific practice.

A mandala is full of symbolic meaning and can be "read" and studied like a text. The purpose of a mandala is to acquaint the student with the tantra, and thus allowing the student to identify with the central deity and its pure surroundings as the mandala.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama from: 'The Kalachakra tantra, rite of initiation':

"Because the severe misunderstandings that can arise are more harmful than a partial lifting of secrecy, I have encouraged a greater openness in the display and accurate description of mandalas.”

The mandala is actually a 3-dimensional phenomenon, and making of such a mandala requires much time and expertise, which explains why actual 3-dimensional models are quite rare.

Painted Mind Mandala
Full Sand Mandala

A sand mandala is used in most traditions (including His Holiness the Dalai Lama) for a Kalachakra initiation.

Creating a two-dimensional Kalachakra mandala in colored sand of some 2 meters diameter means quite a lot of work, as all the dimensions are to be accurately in accordance with the tradition. Also, many prayers are made in the process, so it takes a team of monks about 6 days of work.

The mandala of Kalachakra symbolizes the entire universe (Outer Kalachakra) in terms of planets and time cycles, as well as aspects of our body and mind (Inner Kalachakra), and even the practice (Other Kalachakra).
In the practice of Kalachakra, one strives at visualizing the complete mandala, including all its deities and ornaments in perfect detail within the size of a tiny drop to practice single-pointed concentration.

You can now download our special Kalachakra Screensaver for free, which includes Kalachakra mandala images. It is suitable for Windows only, just unzip the file and double click to install. If you like, you can set the speed and number of moving images by right-clicking on your desktop and chose 'properties' and 'screensaver'.