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The term mandala may be applied to various tangible objects, depending upon the particular religious practice that uses the term. The term has Hindu origins and but is also used in the context of Buddhism.Mandala is the generic name for any plan/ chart/ geometric pattern which represents the cosmos metaphysically/ symbolically, a microcosm of the universe from the standpoint of man.

Mandala in Hinduism

In Hindu cosmology the surface of the earth is represented as a square, the most fundamental of all Hindu forms. The earth is represented as four cornered with reference to the horizon's relationship with sunrise and sunset, the North and South direction. The earth is thus called Caturbhrsti- four cornered- and is represented in the symbolic form of the Prithvi Mandala. The astrological charts or horoscopes- Rasi, Navamsa, etc., also represent in a square plan the ecliptic- the positions of the sun, moon, planets and zodiacal constellations with reference to the native's place and time of birth. The Vaastu Purusha Mandala is the metaphysical plan of a building/ temple/ site that incorporates the course of the heavenly bodies and supernatural forces.

Vaastu Purusha Mandala

Some important Mandalas



Mandala in Buddhism

A mandala may also graphically depict a landscape of the Buddha land or the enlightened vision of a Buddha. Mandalas are commonly used by Hindu and Buddhist monks as an aid to meditation. In Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, the mandala is a scroll of Chinese calligraphy that embodies the enlightened life condition of Nichiren Daishonin, the founder of that Buddhist practice, and is the highest object of worship to which his followers chant the words "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo."

The photograph above is a good example of a Tibetan Sand Mandala. This pattern is painstakingly created on the temple floor by several monks a few grains of sand at a time. The various aspects of the design represent symbolically the objects of worship and contemplation of the Tibetan Buddhist cosmology.

To symbolize impermanence (a central teaching of Buddhism), after many weeks or months of creating the intricate pattern, the entire work is swept out the temple doors.

The mandala is usually a symbolic representation which depicts the qualities of the Enlightened Mind in harmonious relationship with one another. A mandala may also be used to represent the path of spiritual development. On another level a mandala can be a symbolic representation of the universe, as in one of the four foundation practices of the Vajrayana, in which a mandala representing the universe is offered to the Buddha. One important type is the mandala of the "five Buddhas", archetypal Buddha forms embodying various aspects of Enlightenment, the actual Buddhas depicted depending on the school of Buddhism and even the specific purpose of the mandala. The most common mandala of this type is that of the five jinas or conquerors, the Buddhas Vairocana, Aksobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddhi.

In the West the term is also used to refer to the "personal world" in which one lives, the various elements of the mandala being the activities and interests in which one engages, the most important being at the centre of the mandala, and the least important at the periphery. Depicting one's personal mandala in pictorial form can give one a good indication of the state of one's spiritual life.

See also: Qi, Qigong