The following article is from the Summer, 1999 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


H.E. Chagdud Rinpoche and Lama Gyatso

by Lama Nubpa Clwdak Gyatso

[Lama Gyatso offers the following profound teaching on the Mandala. Lama Gyatso's Buddhist training began in Tibet at the age of four. He went on to study Buddhist and Western philosophy at the postgraduate level, and trained with many of the greatest living Nyingma masters. He now teaches, both formally and by compassionate example, in Los Angeles. ]

The Sanskrit term mandala (in Tibetan kyil-khor, center and circumference) refers to the foundational support for the establishment of the full range of Buddhist teachings. Once people have accumulated extraordinary spiritual merit and therefore achieved the advantage of this higher rebirth, they can follow the swift path of spiritual practice of which the mandala principle is a part. Thus, a mandala contributes to the supremely blissful state of timeless awareness being attained without delay. By thoroughly practicing the development stage of meditation, one resolves ordinary concepts into the essence of the deity. By meditating on the completion stage, the wisdom of intrinsic awareness, one gains the state of primordial being. The tantra entitled The All-Creating Monarch states:

The center is unerring, the ultimate heart essence, while the circumference is the perfection of samsara and nirvana as supreme bliss. Understand that the mandalathe center and circumference of the all-creating monarchis the expanse of awakened mind, which has no basis in dualism.

In actuality, all mandalas arise as manifestations of the lucid radiance of being, free of any fixed identity of their own. The entire universe of all appearances and possibilities is the unique mandala of the vast array of peaceful and wrathful deities, all clearly apparent and distinct, yet like an illusion created by a magician. Despite its manifest quality, there is not the slightest trace of corporeal reality to distort this mandala, and no ordinary conceptual frameworks whatsoever apply to it. With the confident view of the equality of samsara and nirvana, one can understand it to be the mandala that integrates the meditative stages of development and completion. The mandala principle can be discussed on five levels. The mandala that is the timeless and spontaneously present nature of things is the naturally occurring mandala of the fivefold radiance of being. One's body itself is a profound mandala that is present in a way that is timelessly perfect, without having to be deliberately created. The mandalas experienced in meditation are developed through the dynamic energy of the practitioner's awareness. The so-called mandala of the bhaga is a symbolic expression of the source of the supremely blissful state of timeless awareness. And finally, there are physical depictions of mandalas, which may be two-dimensional paintings or designs in sand or three-dimensional constructions.

Our current project is the construction of a three-dimensional mandala The particular one we are building is that of the peaceful and wrathful deities of the One Hundred Buddha Families, which are the expressions of enlightened qualities that have the power to transform negativity. Nowadays, some who do not understand the nature of wrathful deities are uncomfortable with the concept, but we should know that these are not in any way expressions of our ordinary emotional confusion, in which we as unenlightened beings react with attachment to what is ours and with aversion to others. Rather, the vast array of wrathful deities is simply a direct expression of the innate power of compassion that, in fact, tames our emotional negativity. The entire mandala of peaceful and wrathful deities is complete in our own mind and body. It is only because adventitious factors obscure this fact that ordinary beings remain caught in cyclic existence. When this three-dimensional mandala of the peaceful and wrathful deities is constructed in authentic detail and consecrated with the appropriate rituals, it is in some sense indistinguishable from the mandala one experiences in spiritual practice, as the timeless awareness of the deities. But it does not simply serve as a focus for personal meditation. The environment in which such a mandala is built is permeated by spiritual blessings, just as a place fills with fragrance when incense is burned there. These blessings have a stabilizing effect on imbalances in the elements of the outer world, and dispel illnesses, famine, strife, and other calamities that afflict us in these times of spiritual degeneration. In a similar fashion, to see, hear of, think of, or otherwise come into contact with such a mandala has a transformative effect on even ordinary people, awakening altruism and compassion in them, and causing these attitudes to grow. This contributes to one gaining the supreme state of natural freedom that is beyond all ordinary dualistic experience, even if this takes place over lifetimes. In the shorter term, such a mandala serves as a sacred focus that by its very nature promotes longevity, spiritual merit, success, and prosperity. There is a further benefit to this particular mandala. Although the nature of reality is primordially non-dual dharma-kaya, our failure to recognize this nature causes us to misconstrue it in ways that lead to ordinary states of pleasure or pain. On the basis of this, we reinforce negative karma through our actions, speech, and thoughts, and impair our formal commitments as spiritual practitioners. One profound method to counteract these problems, like a single medicine that can cure a hundred diseases, is the ritual for the restoration and renewal of commitment, which is based on this secret mandala of the peaceful and wrathful deities. By participating in this ritual, people can, in the best of cases, purify themselves of all the ways in which they have broken or impaired their commitments in following the profound and skillful path of tantra, as well of all other faults and failings. The fact that such purification is possible is attested to by the words of the primordial protector Samantabhadra:

Whoever pays homage to the magical mandala of the peaceful and wrathful deities will be purified of all breaking and impairing of their spiritual commitments. Even the effects of very harmful actions that bring severe consequences can be eliminated. The very hells themselves will be emptied and one will attain a pure realm as a master of awareness.

There are also ceremonies based on this secret mandala that benefit the deceased, freeing their minds of fear in the after death state, or bardo. When the mind recognizes the bardo for what it is, all perceptions based on confusion are recognized for what they truly arethe peaceful and wrathful deities that are expressions of self-knowing awarenessand one gains liberation from cyclic existence. The ceremonies for the deceased are very sacred methods to purify their consciousnesses and lead them further along the spiritual path. In brief, then, this mandala serves as a basis for the two accumulations of merit and wisdom to be gathered as causal factors, for the two levels of obscurations to be refined away on the spiritual path, and for the fruitionthe two kayas of buddhahoodto be realized as the spontaneous accomplishment of one's own and others' benefit. In our modern world, as witnessed by the plight of Tibet, ancient traditions of spiritual wisdom are in danger of being lost. It is important that we take steps to preserve and promote these traditions. This project is an excellent way to contribute to that process. I would ask that all of you who are inspired by this idea lend your support in whatever way you can.

For more information, contact:

Chagdud Gonpa T'hondup Ling

PO Box 292499

Los Angeles, California, 90029

Tel: 323-953-0755

Fax: 323-953-4859

e-mail: ä_æ