The Tibetan mandala is a tool for gaining wisdom and compassion and generally is depicted as a tightly balanced, geometric composition wherein deities reside. The principal deity is housed in the center. The mandala serves as a tool for guiding individuals along the path to enlightenment. Monks meditate upon the mandala, imagining it as a three-dimensional palace. The deities who reside in the palace embody philosophical views and serve as role models. The mandala’s purpose is to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones.
The Sand Mandala
Mandalas constructed from sand are unique to Tibetan Buddhism and are believed to effect purification and healing. Typically, a great teacher chooses the specific mandala to be created. Monks then begin construction of the sand mandala by consecrating the site with sacred chants and music. Next, they make a detailed drawing from memory. Over a number of days, they fill in the design with millions of grains of colored sand. At its completion, the mandala is consecrated. The monks then enact the impermanent nature of existence by sweeping up the colored grains and dispersing them in flowing water.
According to Buddhist scripture, sand mandalas transmit positive energies to the environment and to the people who view them. While constructing a mandala, Buddhist monks chant and meditate to invoke the divine energies of the deities residing within the mandala. The monks then ask for the deities’ healing blessings. A mandala’s healing power extends to the whole world even before it is swept up and dispersed into flowing water—a further expression of sharing the mandala’s blessings with all.
The historical Buddha, founder of Buddhism in India during the fifth century B.C.E., taught the impermanence of existence. Tibetan Buddhism, which developed in the seventh century, draws its main tenets from Indian Buddhism: individual enlightenment, the liberation of all beings, and the development of compassion and insight into the nature of reality.
Drepung Loseling Monastery
In 1416, the Drepung Monastery was established in Lhasa. Its largest department, Loseling, or the Hermitage of the Radiant Mind, housed more than three-quarters of Drepung’s ten thousand to fifteen thousand monks. Today, the monastery is in exile with headquarters in the state of Karnataka in southern India. The Loseling Institute, a monastic seat with 2,500 monks, is located in Atlanta, Georgia.