The role of mandalas as a schematic representation of the universe is expressed in the architectural form of the Hindu Temple. Its symmetrical construction of concentric circles possesses a center divided into four squares. The temple uses these complex circular forms to focus cosmic and psychic energies and may encapsulate an infinite number of gods, as it is a symbolic form of paradise purified from demons. Used as drawings or diagrams, the mandala can be combined with incantations and ritual gestures to create, protect, enclose, or destroy energy.
Used as a place for worship and meditation in early and Theravada Buddhism, mandalas can be found in the form of stupas—a mound-like structure containing relics of the remains of Buddhist monks and nuns. Representations of mandalas can be found in parts of the Pali Canon (the scriptural collection of the Theravada tradition) under the Atanatiya Sutta and the Digha Nikaya, which are chanted.
Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism
The decorated mandala consists of an outer and inner circle with symbols and deities symbolizing the landscape of the Buddha Land or an enlightened Buddha. Used as an aid for meditation, this mandala helps achieve a mental sacred space or an internalized image of enlightenment with contemplative repetition. Sand mandalas symbolize the Buddhist teaching of impermanence; after weeks of designing the intricate pattern in sand, it is brushed away. Additionally, “mandala offerings” are employed wherein they offer a symbolic model of the universe to Buddha or to one’s teacher.
The Japanese branch of Vajrayana, Shingon Buddhism, uses mandalas to initiate new students: the Mandala of the Womb Realm and the Mandala of the Diamond Realm.