NW Dharma News published an article last summer by my good friend, Brian Hodel, describing the elaborate consecration of the new temple on Whidbey Island, Phagtsok Gendun Choling. Somehow I missed seeing the article when it first came out, but it’s well worth reading as, beyond the general description of what went on, it contains interesting tidbits about Buddhist ritual, cosmology, and belief. It also conveys the intensity of the multi-day event…and includes mention of the related sand mandala tour that our Seattle group organized.
Rinpoche didn’t want to simply import Tibetan designs, but rather to incorporate those with Northwest building styles. The temple, he said, was to be “in harmony with nature,” and “a cause of happiness for all beings.”
means circle in Sanskrit. The flat drawings that we normally see are meant as
maps of the three-dimensional universe, or even multiverse, in Buddhist and
have arisen in the world’s spiritual traditions, from the calendars of the
Mayans to the Persian symbol of the sun, or the Celtic cross. In Christianity,
they appear in walkable labyrinths, or stained glass windows of ancient
cathedrals. Mandalas are found in nature: think of flowers, or the
cross-section of a tree trunk, a conch shell, the iris of an eye, or a
earliest Buddhist mandalas appeared in India around 200 CE, and spread to other
Asian countries, including Tibet. In Tibetan Buddhism the Mandala represents
the sacred essence of the universe, or the enlightened mind. It is an outward
manifestation of inner spiritual dimensions, using color, form and sacred geometry.
The Mandala is a tool through which philosophical and religious principles are
passed from teacher to student over generations.
Tibetan mandala is an exquisite form of ritual art. Every intricate detail
carries deep symbolic meaning. The form often appears as concentric circles
around a perfect square, representing a four-sided temple containing the
essence of the Buddha or other deities. Each deity has a corresponding mandala
constructed of specific shapes and colors. The Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara’s
mandala, for example, appears differently from one for Manjushri, Buddha of
Each mandala detail represents precise parts of a palace, including cornices, columns, lintels, etc. The mandala is inhabited. At the center resides the main deity, and around the circular perimeter is a row of protector deities. The four sides have entranceways through which the deity is approached. The mandala is divided into four sections that correspond to the four directions, indicated by its characteristic color. The center makes a fifth direction. Blue in the east; yellow south; red west; green north; and white at the center. (Sometimes blue and white are switched.)
meditation, the Mandala can serve to focus and calm the mind. At other times, practitioners
may visualize the symbolic representation of the pure land of that deity, or
pure essence of the enlightened mind. This is meant to cultivate one’s inner
spiritual qualities and the potential to achieve an enlightened state.
Mandalas are created as offerings to bless and heal the world and all its inhabitants. They are also a profound teaching on impermanence—a central principle of Buddhist philosophy. Although some Mandala art is preserved in sacred paintings, practitioners create mandalas of sand and other materials that are then dissolved and returned to nature. From creation through dissolution, the Sand Mandala is a beautiful dance illustrating the impermanence of all things.
Thanks to Marcia Meyers for contributing to this piece, and to Brian Hodel for the title.Copies were handed out at the Kilung Foundation’s 2019 “Prayer for the Earth: Tibetan Sand Mandala Exhibit.”