THE CHENREZIG SAND MANDALA
Of all the artistic traditions of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, painting with coloured sand is one of the most exquisite. Mandalas are representations of the celestial mansion of one or more deities, who may be surrounded by their retinues, and other protectors and in a wider sense can be thought of as representing both the external world and the internal world of the consciousness – and indeed the whole universe. To make the Mandala, millions of grains of coloured sand are placed painstakingly in an elaborate design laid down in the Buddhist texts, which is memorised during the monks’ training. The material used is marble dust coloured by the monks in the monastery.
At the heart of the Chenrezig Mandala is a lotus upon a throne, symbolizing the Lord Chenrezig, surrounded by an eight-petalled lotus flower. Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who has decided to delay becoming a fully enlightened Buddha and who lives in a compassionate spirit life for the sake of all beings. With a mantra, Om mani padme hum (Hail to the jewel in the lotus), he tirelessly attempts to deliver all beings from suffering. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is the current incarnation of Chenrezig.
To the East of the Mandala, the entrance point, is a blue dorje symbolizing Buddha Akshobhya; on the red petal to the South is a yellow jewel symbolizing Buddha Ratnasambhava. In the North is a green sword representing the symbol of Buddha Amoghasiddhi, and in the West is a white dharma wheel. These together are the symbols of the heads of the Five Buddha Families, and each is placed upon a lotus and moon throne. They are surrounded by a protective mala or rosary of Dorjes, emanating from the heart of the Lord Chenrezig. Surrounding the central residence of the Buddhas are five walls made of coloured glass, representing the Five Wisdoms. The floor of the mansion is divided into four triangles, which extend beneath the central lotus, each in the colour relating to its particular direction: East is blue, South yellow, North green and the West is white. These are also the colours of the gates, which are decorated with brocade hangings and painted pillars, and carved decorations in the wood. At the top of each gate is the wheel of dharma with, seated to each side, two deer.
Outside the five coloured inner walls of the palace are designs of lotus flowers on a red background, representing the Sixteen Offering Goddesses, two on either side of each gate. Above the goddesses are jewel-encrusted walls with strings of pearls and a parapet in the form of lotus petals. Outside the main walls of the palace is a beautiful garden. Two small vases on each corner of the roof of the palace hold brocade banners, and there are white umbrellas at each corner. The large vases set on the ground are planted with wish-fulfilling trees, each containing one of the Eight Precious Articles, and there are clouds around the gates. The Mandala is placed inside a thousand-petalled lotus flower, outside which is another protective Dorje mala. Finally, there is a rainbow-coloured protective ring of fire.
The Mandala is constructed to bring peace and harmony to our world, generating positive qualities through genuine practices of the mind of Great Compassion, the Wisdom of Emptiness, and meditation on the relevant deities. Simply to view the Mandala, however, will create a positive impression the observer, who for a moment is in touch with the profound potential for perfect Enlightenment, which exists within the mind of all beings.
Once the final grain of sand has been placed on the table, the Mandala is visualised as the residence of the enlightened being, who the monks invite inside, and from whom they request help in achieving their wishes with prayers and meditations in the temple lasting several days. The enlightened being or Buddha remains within the Mandala until the closing ceremony, when great thanks and appreciation are offered to him for the gift of his presence, after which he is asked respectfully to leave. The Mandala is then destroyed by sweeping the sand into the centre of the table from each of the four corners. The sand is then distributed in running water so that each of the blessed grains of sand reaches as far as possible.
Tashi Lhunpo Monastery UK Trust, The Round House, Netton, Salisbury SP4 6AW
Tel: 01722 782265 Website: www.tashi-lhunpo.org.uk
Regd. Charity No 1100175