Heather Blair

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:

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English glosses and definitions for the Sanskrit term maṇḍala vary considerably, ranging from “circle” to “energy grid” to “psycho-cosmogram.” Although it is quite common to interpret mandalas as maps, to do so downplays their ability to be what they show. Therefore, it may be fairer, if more longwinded, to say that mandalas represent and instantiate the enlightened universe and/or the enlightened mind of the practitioner, which they figure as a bounded territorial and architectonic system over which a particular deity presides. Some mandalas are imagined, but many others take form as material objects; among the latter, the best known are two-dimensional polychrome designs exhibiting biaxial symmetry and depicting an array of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other deities, usually in a palace setting. However, mandalas are not necessarily figural: some display syllables rather than anthropomorphic deities, and others are made of ritual implements. Moreover, mandalas can and do take three-dimensional form in sculpture and architecture, and they are also commonly read onto (or out of) bodies and landscapes. Through all these variations in form and medium, mandalas tend to function as structural matrices that support an ordered conceptualization of reality, organize ritual practice, and control territory. Long integrated into meditational and ritual practices, they have now entered the canons of art. As a result, many aesthetically fine and historically significant two- and three-dimensional mandalas are now curated in museums.

Article.  6157 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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