In Tibetan Buddhism, a mandala is an imaginary palace that is contemplated during meditation. Each object in the palace has significance, representing some aspect of wisdom or reminding the meditator of some guiding principle. Tradition dictates the shapes, sizes and colors of these objects. There are many different mandalas, each with different lessons to teach. Most mandalas contain a host of deities as well as inanimate objects.

The word ‘Mandala' means a ‘circle' in the classical Indian language of Sanskrit, but it has far deeper significance than is conveyed by its literal meaning. It represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself--a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to theinfinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds. The mandala pattern is used in many religious traditions. Hildegard von Bingen, a Christian nun in the 12th century, created many beautiful mandalas to express her visions and beliefs. In the Americas, Indians have created medicine wheels and sand mandalas.

The circular Aztec calendar was both a timekeeping device and a religious expression of ancient Aztecs. In Asia, the Taoist "yin-yang" symbol represents opposition as well as interdependence. past, present and the future from all the cosmic compass points (east, west, south, north, northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest from high above and down below) would be invited as witnesses to these occasions, and on the platform their images would be drawn. Later on, different types of mandala were developed, of which the following four are the most common:

  • The Great Mandala (Maha Mandala), at which the presence of the deities from their respective areas are drawn in green, yellow, red, white and black to represent "the earth, water, fire, wind and air".
  • The Samaya mandala, at which the presence of the deities is shown not by the drawings of their images, but by those of the pearls, swords or wheels they carry so that the meditators may associates these objects with the images of the deities and practice visionary meditation.
  • The Dharma Mandala, at which the deities are not represented by the drawings of their images, or those of the objects they carry, for it is believed that the sight of the initial syllables in Sanskrit of their titles will invoke their images in meditators.
  • The Karma Mandala, where carved, sculptured or cast figures of the deities are set up to impress the meditators with the vivid, life-like sight of these deities. .

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