by: Milan Shakya
In a general way, it may be said that a mandala contains an outer enclosure and one or more concentric circles, which, in their turn, enclose the figure of a square, cut by transversal lines. These start from the center and reach to the Four Corners so that the surface is divided up into four triangles. In the center and in the middle of each triangle five circles contain emblems or figure of divinities.
A mandala, then, is surrounded and circumscribed by four cycles that are represented in this text as circle [A, B, C, & D]. The cycle [A] on which is displayed an uninterrupted line of scrollwork. This is Mountain of Fire [me ri], a flaming barrier which, it would seem, forbids access, but which, in fact, according to the symbology of Tantric gnosis, represents consciousness that must burn ignorance, dispelling the darkness of error and leading us to that cognition which we are seeking.
Immediately after this circle, second circle [B] a girdle of Diamond or Vajras [rdo rje ra ba] is drawn. The diamond symbolizes supreme cognition, bodhi, Illumination, Absolute Essence, Cosmic Consciousness, which, once it has been attained is never again lost. It is like a diamond, unchangeable.
Then comes [especially in the mandala dedicated to the terrifying divinities] a third circle [C] in which eight graveyards are represented. In esoteric tradition, these are eight awe-inspiring places where in various parts of world ascetics retire to meditate. They are disposed in cross, like the diagram of the mandala, four on the principle, and four on the intermediate points. They are not nine, for there is no central point. They are peripheral, disposed on the outside limits of the mandala's crosspieces or of the eight- petalled lotus, which corresponds to the plane of spiritual essences. The central point is lacking because, esoterically, these graveyards do not correspond to definite places but symbolize the eight aspects of the individual and individuating cognition, which has been lost. The individual is shipwrecked in the world of experience, is overwhelmed by the impact of his karma, and has fallen into the power of the unconscious. There are eight aspects, because five are in contact five sensory consciousness, that is to say they correspond to the impression which, through our senses, the external world communicates to us. Then come the intellective consciousness [manovijnana], the thinking faculty of the individual, in itself and by itself [vijnana], and lastly, the store-consciousness [alayavijnana], which gathers and retains both individual and collective experiences.
These eight forms of consciousness [vijnana] are the cause of samsara and they condition its development. As long as they are active, we are dragged along on the round of the births and deaths. The graveyards symbolizing the vijnana are represented according to a detail iconographical plan. Each has its own mountain, its own stupa, river, tree, and ascetic who sit there absorbed and confident.
After the graveyards comes the last circle [D] a girdle of lotus leaves to signify rebirth - according to the symbolism mentioned above. The lotus leaves open outwards because the plane they represent is not brought to an end, but stretches out as it were towards the neophyte who knows the mysteries of gnosis and has relived them in his soul. The gods, however, are seated upon a closed lotus, because they manifest themselves only upon the other plane whose essence they represent. They are at the journey's end. The outside petals turned outwards signify the entrance into the life of palingenesis, but the central bud of the lotus, closed upon it, symbolizes the Original synthesis.
In the middle of this first circle is drawn the mandala properly speaking, which is also called the 'palace' [vimana], that is the place where the images of gods are disposed. Its proportions are determined by a unit of measurement that correspond, generally, to an eight of the brahma-rekha, that is of the line which bisects the mandala from north to south and symbolizes the axis of mundi, Sumeru, the spinal column of man, assimilated to the microcosm. The unit of measurement for the minor figures is the fourth part of this segment.
In the middle of each of the four sides, a gate opens in the form of T, flanked with seven bands of five colors, which prolonged along the four sides, thus joining gate to gate and constituting the walls of the sacred city. Over the gate rises a torana, a sort of triumphal arch, resting upon two, or more, lateral pillars. This torana is composed of eleven little roofs, one upon the other and each shorter than the last. On the top of this arch is disk on which is represented the twelve-spoked Wheel of Law. To the right and the left, two gazelles recall the preaching of the Buddha's first sermon in the Deer Park at Sarnath. On the Wheel is an umbrella, insignia of royalty, and at its sides are ornamental streamers in vases.
The walls, which as we have seen are represented by five strips of different colors, are called respectively 'base', 'border', 'bean', necklace' and 'half-necklace', since these two later bands are decorated with necklaces either hanging down or issuing from the mouths of marine monster [makara] - and finally there is jeweled fringe. A balcony decorated with lotus flowers and on its tree of paradise rise up from vases containing water of surmounts them all. The four directions of the Mandala Mandala are different from the western traditon :