A circular diagram used in Buddhist observances in Tibet, China, and Japan, although similar designs are thought to have first been used by the Tantric Hindu sect. A mandala is a symbolic representation of the universe. The edges of the circle provide a demarcation point through which the devotee enters the realm of a particular god, Buddha, or bodhisattva in meditation or other rites, eventually hoping to move toward its center. The journey is a symbol of the devotee's spiritual journey.
Commonly, mandalas are inscribed on scrolls or painted on walls but they appear in other forms as well. Tibetan Buddhists, who use them most extensively, employ mandalas ranging from small, portable versions on cloth to large versions drawn on the ground using colored sand or powder for special rites. It is also possible to simply visualize a mandala during meditation rather than use a physical representation of it.
The actual design of mandalas is precise and consistent; separate gods, Buddhas, and bodhisattvas have their own mandalas. For some believers in both Buddhism and Hinduism, mandalas are the place where a deity appears when invoked by mantras. The mantras give life to the mandala, which, in tur n, becomes merged with the deity itself.
SEE ALSO: mantra; Tantricism; Tibetan Buddhism.