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The Kalachakra Mandala


His Holiness the Dalai Lama from: 'The Kalachakra tantra, rite of initiation':
Kalachakra Full Body, Speech and Mind Sand Mandala; click to see a large interactive version
Full Kalachakra sand mandala
(body, speech and mind)
"The Kalachakra system was one of the last and most complex tantric systems to be brought to Tibet from India. In recent years many Westerners have become acquainted with this tradition as various lamas have given the Kalachakra Initiation to large groups of people. I myself have given it several times in Western countries, as well as in India and Tibet. Such initiation are given on the basis of a mandala, the sacred residence with its residence deities, usually depicted in graphic form . The tradition I follow employs a mandala constructed of colored sand which is carefully assembled prior to each initiation and dismantled once more at the end. Due to their colorful and intricate nature, mandalas have attracted a great deal of interest. Although some can be openly explained, most are related to tantric doctrines that are normally supposed to be kept secret. Consequently, many speculative and mistaken interpretations have circulated among people who viewed them simply as works of art or had no access to reliable explanations. 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 best known form of the Kalachakra mandala is the sand mandala, for which colored sand grains are painstakingly placed. This sand drawing represents a 3-dimensional palace of which every single detail has a symbolic meaning. A mandala is a symbolic representation of many aspects of a specific tantra. In the Kalachakra tantra, all elements of the mandala refer to the universe (outer Kalachakra), the body and mind (inner Kalachakra) and the practice (initiation, generation and completion stages).
Every detail of the mandala, from each deity to every adornments of the building, refers to time and the universe (Outer Kalachakra), physical and mental aspects of Kalachakra and ourselves (Inner Kalachakra), and also to aspects of the practice (Alternative Kalachakra).

It should be noted that in the Kalachakra tradition, an unusual order of directions is followed in the description of the mandala. As usual (in Tibetan artwork), the Eastern direction (black) is directed to the viewer, or at the bottom of an image, but when going around the mandala, a somewhat complicated order is followed: clockwise from East to Southwest, clockwise from North to Northeast, and finally clockwise from West to Northwest.

This page describes the main layout of the mandala palace, other pages in the area for Initiates describe more in detail the deities which can be found at the various locations.

The Kalachakra Mandala is like a huge palace, with 5 distinct floor levels:
  • At the ground level is the Body Mandala, measuring 200 by 200 armspans, and it has 4 huge entrance ways in the main directions.
  • Within the Body Mandala, on a platform of 100 armspans high, comes the Speech Mandala with a floor surface of 100 by 100 armspans, which looks very similar to the Body Mandala.
  • At the center of the Speech mandala, on a platform 50 armspans in height, comes the Mind Mandala, with a floor surface of 50 by 50 armspans, which looks again very similar to the Body Mandala. The Mind Mandala has two more floor levels, the Exalted Wisdom Mandala and the Great Bliss Mandala.
  • The Exalted Wisdom Mandala is raised 25 armspans above the floor of the Mind Mandala and its floor measures 25 by 25 armspans.
  • On a slightly raised platform is the central Great Bliss Mandala, with a large green lotus on which the main Deity Kalachakra with his consort Vishvamata resides, surrounded by the 8 Shaktis.
  • The top of the roof of the Great Bliss Mandala is at a height of 200 armspans.


Kalachakra MIND Mandala, from www.snowlionpub.com
Kalachakra Mind Mandala
There are various traditions in depicting the mandala; in the type of Mind Mandala below on the left, all the deities are depicted as dots of sand, but in the thanka-painting of the Mind Mandala below, the most important deities are depicted.In the last case, proportions of the mandala are somewhat distorted in the center, otherwise the deities would not fit.In the Kalachakra tradition blue and black are often interchanged, so for example, deities of black color can be depicted as blue.The complete mandala of Kalachakra is built up in five distinct floors. The ground floor is the Body Mandala, the first floor is the Speech Mandala, and the highest three floors are part of the Mind Mandala.
To explain what happens in this complex construction, we start from the center of the mandala, see the schematized image below of the isolated Mind Mandala which holds some 70 deities.
The central area surrounded by the black frame (vajra wall) is the Great Bliss Mandala, representing the experience of Emptiness and Great Bliss. It is located on the highest, fifth floor of the complete body, speech and mind mandala
In the center is a green lotus, with on its central (black Kalagni) disc, Kalachakra and Vishvamata are represented as blue and yellow dots.
On the green lotus, each of the eight leaves is occupied by a Shakti.
Around the lotus, on the blue floor of the Great Bliss Mandala, are four implements: white conch, red wooden gong, a black wish-granting jewel and a yellow wish-granting tree which represent the Buddha's Body, Speech, Mind and Exalted Wisdom respectively.

Slowly move your mouse over below schematic Mind Mandala to see a pop-up explanation.
2D Image of the Kalachakra Mind Mandala Floor of the Northern Gate with a Protector Kalachakra and Vishvamata Green lotus with the eight Shaktis on the petals Great Bliss Mandala floor Wisdom Mandala with the Tathagatas and vases Floor of the Mind Mandala Ledge with the Bodhisattvas Floor of the Northern Gate with a Protector Floor of the Western Gate with Protector Floor of the Eastern Gate with Protector and the Protector below the mandala Floor of the Southern Gate with Protector Outer ledge with offering goddesses Outer ledge with offering goddesses Outer ledge with offering goddesses Outer ledge with offering goddesses Northern Gate side view Western Gate side view Eastern Gate side view Southern Gate side view

The surrounding area within the green line contains black pillars (in this image they are projected onto the floor) which carry the roof. This is the Exalted Wisdom Mandala, which represents the Subtle Mind and is on the fourth floor of the mandala.
Between the pillars are the 8 pairs of Tathagatas, seated on lotus seats, and vases.
The following area is divided in 4 quarts of different colors, showing the floor of the Mind Mandala, which is on the third floor.
This outer area represents the Coarse Mind, located on the second floor, and it is surrounded by a three-coloured wall.
On the white ledge (lhanam) just within the wall, 12 couples of Bodhisattvas are seated.
In the entrance gates, wrathful protecting deities are located, as couples.
In the four main directions, the porticos or entrance gates are depicted; in fact, they stand upright in the full 3D mandala, but are "flattened" for imaging in 2D.
Outside the mandala wall is also a white ledge, on which offering goddesses are located.

Slowly move your mouse over below thanka painting of the Mind Mandala to see a pop-up explanation of the deities and objects in the mandala palace.

Thanka of Kalachakra MIND Mandala: from www.tibetart.com Protector Protector Protector Vase Vase Vase Vase Vase Vase Vase Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Bodhisattva Wooden gong Conch Wish-granting Tree Bodhisattva Wish-granting jewel Tathagata Tathagata Tathagata Tathagata Tathagata Tathagata Tathagata Tathagata Shakti Shakti Shakti Shakti Shakti Shakti Shakti Kalachakra and Vishvamata Shakti Vase Protector

Below image is a 3D-view of the Mind Mandala. Not all dimensions have been officially verified, but it should give a good overall impression. All ornamentation is left out to create a clearer image, but note that even the ornaments do have profound symbolic meaning. The deities are represented as cylinders in the correct color. Deity pairs are represented as two half-cylinders.

Slowly move your mouse over below swchematic Mind Mandala image to see a pop-up explanation.
3D image of the Kalachakra Mind Mandala Outer Ledge Mind Mandala with Offering Goddesses Inner Ledge Mind Mandala with Bodhisattvas Inner Ledge Mind Mandala Outer Ledge Mind Mandala with Offering Goddesses Great Bliss and Exalted Wisdom Mandala Black Pillars around the Exalted Wisdom Mandala Roof above Exalted Wisdom Mandala Roof Above Great Bliss Mandala Roof above Ledge with Bodhisattvas Eastern Mandala Gate Northen Mandala Gate


The image below represents a simplified 2D version of the complete mandala, as in the sand mandala, but not containing any deities or ornaments. In the center is the Mind Mandala, which is surrounded by the Speech and Body Mandala, which are similarly shaped.

Surrounding the central Mind Mandala is the Speech Mandala which represents the Enjoyment Body of the Buddha (Sambhogakaya). This mandala houses 116 deities and lies on the second floor of the mandala. On the white ledge (lhanam) are 80 deities, the Yoginis of the Speech Mandala, they represent for example the 80 minor marks of a Buddha.

The Body Mandala represents the Form Body of the Buddha (Rupakaya) and it surrounds the Speech Mandala. The Body Mandala is placed on the first floor at ground level. Including the deities in the surrounding cemetery grounds (depicted as wheels), it contains 536 deities. On the white ledge (lhanam) just inside the outer walls, are 12 animals (visible on the sand mandala, not here), depicting the 12 months of the year. Each carries a lotus with 28 petals on which a deity is placed, and a deity pair in the center which represents new moon and full moon; together these represent the 30 lunar days in a month. The number 360 also refers to the sets of 360 breaths we take in 60 cycles every day (adding up to 21,600 breaths per day).

Simplified full Body, Speech and Mind Mandala
Slowly move your mouse over below image to view some explanation.

2D Full Body, Speech and Mind Mandala Cemetery Cemetery Cemetery Cemetery Cemetery Cemetery Cemetery Mind Mandala Speech Mandala Body Mandala Cemetery Northern offering ground Northern offering ground Western offering ground Western offering ground Southern offering ground Southern offering ground Eastern offering ground Eastern offering ground Earth Ring Earth Ring Earth Ring Earth Ring Earth Ring Earth Ring Earth Ring Earth Ring Water Ring Water Ring Cemetery Cemetery Fire Ring Fire Ring Fire Ring Fire Ring Fire Ring Fire Ring Fire Ring Fire Ring Wind Ring Wind Ring Wind Ring Wind Ring Wind Ring Wind Ring Wind Ring Wind Ring Space Ring Space Ring Wisdom Ring Wisdom Ring


The Body Mandala is surrounded by crescent-shaped areas, which are the offering grounds. Next follow circles which represent the elements: earth (yellow), water (white), fire (pink/red), wind (gray/black) and space (green). The outermost circle is the "Great Protective Circle", "Mountain of Flames" or "Circle of Wisdom" which represents the wisdom element. The differently colored areas represent the five Wisdoms of the Buddha in the form of a rainbow.

The pink and gray Dharma Wheels are also known as the "Cemetery Grounds". The cemeteries are represented as eight-spoked wheels. Between these wheels, 88 Sanskrit syllables are placed (not depicted here). It should be noted that there is a profound relationship between the Kalachakra tantra and the Sanskrit alphabet. Click to look at a large image (165kB) of the sand mandala.

In the practice of Kalachakra, one strives at visualizing the complete mandala, including its hundreds of deities in perfect detail of the size of a small drop during the Generation Stage of the practice, to achieve a very high level of concentration. Next, during the Completion Stage practices one gradually develops one's body and mind into that of an enlightened Buddha by controlling all energies of body and mind. This should give an idea of the level of concentration required for transforming oneself into a Buddha.... 

Do have a look at our Interactive Mandala to see where all deities are located in the full Body, Speech and Mind Mandala.

Images of computer models of the Kalachakra mandala can also be found at Kalacakra.org and Kavita Bala's project, also if you Google for 'Kalachakra mandala video', several animations of 3D mandalas can be found.

The website of the Jonang Foundation contains great pictures and videos on 3D Mandalas.

A great series of pictures on making the sand mandala can be found on the Kalachakra 2004 website.

Arija Rinpoche constructing
the 3D Mandala below

£D Kalachakra mandala3D Kalachakra Mandala Model
Images of a 'real' 3D Kalachakra mandala made in the USA by Arjia Rinpoche
(click on the right image to enlarge ( file 246kB).


Beautiful video of the creation and dissolution of a Kalachakra mandala Kalachakra mandala
created by Losang Samten in November of 2009 at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Photographed and edited by Thomas Bugaj

Kalachakra Mandala from peacefeather imagery on Vimeo.


Very detailed images of the Kalachakra mandala and all the 722 deities as they are depicted in the Kalachakra Temple in Dharamsala, India can be found in the beautiful book 'Kalachakra', published by Tibet Domani, Italy 1996.
Good descriptions are also found in 'The Mandala' by Martin Brauen and 'The Wheel of Time Sand Mandala' by Barry Bryant.
Quite a number of the Mind Mandala deities are depicted on this page of the Tibet Art website.