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Mandala (Skt. maṇḍala; Tib. དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་, kyilkhor; Wyl. dkyil ‘khor) — mandala can be translated literally as ‘centre and circumference‘. A mandala is generally depicted as a circle which revolves around a centre. On the simplest level, a mandala can be understood to be us, the student or practitioner, and the phenomenal world around us. The word ‘mandala’ also describes an integrated structure that is organized around a central unifying principle.

It also means:

  1. the sacred environment and dwelling place of a buddha, bodhisattva or deity, together with the deities, which is visualized by the practitioner in tantric practice.
  2. the two dimensional representation of this environment on cloth or paper, or made of heaps of coloured sand, or three dimensional traditionally made of wood.
  3. an offering of the entire universe visualized as a pure land with all the inhabitants as pure beings.

See also mandala offering.


The following animation shows how a two dimensional mandala actually represents the environment, the palace, the seats and the deities. This example is based on the Rigdzin Düpa sadhana.

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Alternative Translations

  • Array / circle[1] (Ronald M. Davidson)


  1. Davidson explains: The feudal system at the time mandated that the aspiring king be consecrated into the position of overlord by a ceremony in which he became divine by being invested in his person with a god or gods and took his place in the center of a maṇḍala of subordinate states. These subsidiary states acted as buffers encompassing the great state, which is why it was called a maṇḍala: a circle. See R. Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance, Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture, Columbia University Press, 2005. Page 31.

Further Reading

  • Brauen, Martin, The Mandala, Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism (Boston: Shambhala, 1997). First Published as Das Mandala: Der Heilige Kreis im tantrischen Buddhismus (Köln: DuMont, 1992)
  • Chögyam Trungpa, Orderly Chaos: The Mandala Principle (Boston: Shambhala, 1991/ republished in The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume Six, 2003)
  • Chögyam Trungpa, Journey Without Goal (Boston: Shambhala, The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume Four, 2003), Chapter Three: Mandala.

External Links