One type of mandala used in Buddhist rituals is the sand mandala. A sacred sand mandala is a physical representation of the universe and is not simply drawn on paper or etched in stone. It contains colored sand and may contain stone or bronze figures. Only monks who have undergone extensive study are allowed to create a sacred mandala. Traditionally, four monks work together to make a mandala. Once the center dot is placed, lines are drawn from the center dot to the four corners of an outer design which forms the kingdom. Gates are created for each quadrant and the design extends through a series of concentric circles until it reaches the outer edges of the design. The number of circles and their content is typically prescribed ahead of time so that all members fully understand the task. Each of the four sections is called a quadrant and is assigned to one of the four monks.
The four monks then begin to work from the center outward, always working sections in concentric circles until the entire mandala is completed. Once completed, the mandala is destroyed and the sands are poured into a nearby river to release the positive energy. The process of making the mandala is considered a sacred experience. This ritual represents the “impermanence of all things”.
Mandalas in Hinduism
In Hinduism, mandalas are traced on sacred grounds with water colors and erased after rituals are completed. This mandalas follow a specific symbolic format that includes an outer ring of fire that symbolizes the burning of impurities and ends with a center ring of lotus flowers to represent entering a pure area. Various deities occupy the center of the mandala. One who enters the mandala is thought to absorb the compassion, wisdom and skills of the deities.