Tantric Buddhism of the Tibetan variety employs pictorial representations with an intensity unsurpassed in other regional forms of Buddhism. As a visual aid for meditation, the designs, often in the form of a circle or mandala, enable the individual to achieve a special state of awareness in which all things are understood as aspects of one unified principle. Yet, due to the subtle ideas underlying the visually stunning geometric shapes within sacred circles, they are not easily understood by the uninitiated.

Mandala literally means "circle" in Sanskrit, and was adapted by Tibetan Buddhists from the Hindu tantric tradition, which itself reflects a complicated folk system of diagrams used for magical, medical, astrological, and religious purposes in South Asia. As a rule, a mandala is a model of symmetry, concentrated around a central axis that balances and anchors the whole work. From the central axis, the mandala is generally divided into four sectors of equal size. These further consist of concentric circles and squares whose centers coincide with the center of all the circles.

Although a great number of mandalas are indeed aids for meditation, the term "mandala" can also indicate other structures such as palaces or monasteries. The term may even be used for specific arrangements of deities in the Buddhist pantheon as well as a metaphor for the human body, which is esoterically perceived to be a microcosm of the universe. All of these entities and structures conform to the mandala concept, since everything in the manifest universe replicates the cosmic pattern inherent in the sacred circle. In essence the whole cosmos is a mandala, infinitely repeated on different levels of reality and perception.

Lobsang with Manda;a

The one you see here is a kalachakra (wheel of time) mandala, which represents a flattened version of the Kalachakra deityís palace. Particle mandalas such as this one are made during initiation ceremonies and destroyed immediately thereafter. This one was dismantled and dispersed during the closing week of the exhibition in March 1999. Initiation into the kalachakra tantra (the text describing the methodís theology) is very popular both among Tibetans and western Buddhists because practitioners believe that when the next world order replaces the current one, all initiands will be reborn in Shambhala, the perfect kingdom that will reign after the destruction of our present decadent world. Keeping this underlying principle in mind, it is not difficult to understand why the kalachakra embodies so much meaning and hope for Tibetans living in exile.

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