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Buddhist Vegetarianism

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In Buddhism, the views on vegetarianism vary from school to school. According to Theravada, the Buddha allowed his monks to eat pork, chicken and beef if the animal was not killed for the purpose of providing food for monks. Theravada also believes that the Buddha allowed the monks to choose a vegetarian diet, but only prohibited against eating human, elephant, horse, dog, snake, lion, tiger, bear, leopard, and hyena flesh.[1] The Buddha did not prohibit any kind of meat-eating for his lay followers. In Vajrayana, the act of eating meat is not always prohibited. The Mahayana schools generally recommend a vegetarian diet, for they believe that the Buddha insisted that his followers should not eat meat or fish.

Contents

[hide]

[edit] Views of different schools

There is a divergence of views within Buddhism as to whether vegetarianism is required, with some schools of Buddhism rejecting such a requirement. The first precept in Buddhism is usually translated as "I undertake the precept to refrain from taking life". Some Buddhists see this as implying that Buddhists should not eat meat, whereas other Buddhists argue that this is not the case. Some Buddhists do strongly oppose meat-eating on the basis of scriptural injunctions against flesh-eating in Mahayana sutras.

[edit] Theravada View

Buddha in the Anguttara Nikaya 3.38 Sukhamala Sutta, describes his family being wealthy enough to provide non-vegetarian meals even to his servants. After becoming Buddha, he accepted any food offered with respect as alms, including meat,[2] but there is no reference of him eating meat during his seven years as an ascetic.
On one occasion, according to the scriptures, a general sent a servant to purchase meat specifically to feed the Buddha. The Buddha declared that
... meat should not be eaten under three circumstances: when it is seen or heard or suspected (that a living being has been purposely slaughtered for the eater); these, Jivaka, are the three circumstances in which meat should not be eaten, Jivaka! I declare there are three circumstances in which meat can be eaten: when it is not seen or heard or suspected (that a living being has not been purposely slaughtered for the eater); Jivaka, I say these are the three circumstances in which meat can be eaten. —Jivaka Sutta, MN 55 [3]
Also in the Jivaka Sutta, Buddha instructs a monk or nun to accept, without any discrimination, whatever food is offered in receiving alms offered with good will, including meat, whereas the Buddha declares the meat trade to be wrong livelihood in the Vanijja Sutta, AN 5:177
Monks, a lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison. These are the five types of business that a lay follower should not engage in.[4]
But this is not, strictly speaking, a dietary rule. The Buddha, on one particular occasion, specifically refused suggestions by Devadatta to institute vegetarianism in the Sangha.[5]
In the Amagandha Sutta in the Sutta Nipata, a vegetarian Brahmin confronts Kassapa Buddha (a previous Buddha before Gautama Buddha) in regard to the evil of eating meat. The Buddha countered the argument by listing acts which cause real moral defilement and then at the end of the verse, he emphasized that the consumption of meat is not equivalent to those acts. ("... this is the stench giving defilement, not the consumption of meat").
"[t]aking life, beating, wounding, binding, stealing, lying, deceiving, worthless knowledge, adultery; this is stench. Not the eating of meat." (Amagandha Sutta).
There were monastic guidelines prohibiting consumption of 10 types of meat: that of humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, leopards, bears and hyenas. This is because these animals can be provoked by the smell of the flesh of their own kind, or because eating of such flesh would generate a bad reputation for the Sangha.

[edit] Mahayana view

According to the story of the Nirvana Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist scripture purporting to give the Buddha's final teachings, the Buddha insisted that his followers should not eat any kind of meat or fish, even those not included in the 10 types, and that even vegetarian food that has been touched by meat should be washed before being eaten. Also, it is not permissible for the monk or nun just to pick out the non-meat portions of a diet and leave the rest: the whole meal must be rejected.[6]
Chapter 7 of the Nirvana Sutra (translated by Kosho Yamamoto and edited by Dr. Tony Page) states:
One who eats meat kills the seed of great compassion... O Kasyapa! I, from now on, tell my disciples to refrain from eating any kind of meat. O Kasyapa! When one eats meat, this gives out the smell of meat while one is walking, standing, sitting or reclining. People smell this and become fearful. This is as when one comes near a lion. One sees and smells the lion, and fear arises. O good man! When one eats garlic, the dirty smell is unbearable. Other people notice it. They smell the bad smell. They leave that person and go away. Even from far off, people hate to see such a person. They will not come near him. It is the same with one who eats meat. It is a similar situation with all people who, on smelling the meat, become afraid and entertain the thought of death. All living things in the water, on land and in the sky desert such a person and run away. They say that this person is their enemy. Hence the Bodhisattva does not eat meat.
One of the most important tertöns of Tibet, Jigme Lingpa, wrote of his great compassion for animals.
Of all his merit-making, Jigme Lingpa was most proud of his feelings of compassion for animals; he says that this is the best part of his entire life story. He writes of his sorrow when he witnessed the butchering of animals by humans. He often bought and set free animals about to be slaughtered (a common Buddhist act). He ‘changed the perception’ of others, when he once caused his followers to save a female yak from being butchered, and he continually urged his disciples to forswear the killing of animals.[7][8]
In The Life of Shabkar, the Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin, Shabkar Tsodruk Rangdrol wrote:
Above all, you must constantly train your mind to be loving, compassionate, and filled with Bodhicitta. You must give up eating meat, for it is very wrong to eat the flesh of our parent sentient beings.[9]
The Angulimaliya Sutra quotes a dialogue between Buddha and Manjusri on meat eating:
Mañjuśrī asked, “Do Buddhas not eat meat because of the tathāgata-garbha ?”The Blessed One replied, “Mañjuśrī, that is so. There are no beings who have not been one’s mother, who have not been one’s sister through generations of wandering in beginningless and endless saṃsāra. Even one who is a dog has been one’s father, for the world of living beings is like a dancer. Therefore, one’s own flesh and the flesh of another are a single flesh, so Buddhas do not eat meat.
“Moreover, Mañjuśrī, the dhātu of all beings is the dharmadhātu, so Buddhas do not eat meat because they would be eating the flesh of one single dhātu.”[10]

[edit] Eating meat versus killing

In Buddhism, what is most important is to recognise[who?] that being alive, by its very nature, is the cause of direct or indirect suffering and death to other beings (samsara). One should avoid gluttony and greedy consumption, while maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle which is conducive to attaining enlightenment. In the Pali Canon, the Buddha refused suggestion by Devadatta to institute vegetarianism in the monastic code.
Mahayana Buddhism argues that if one pursues the path of the Bodhisattva for enlightenment, one should avoid meat eating to cultivate compassion for all living beings. Similarly, in Theravada Buddhism, avoiding meat eating for the purpose of cultivation of metta (loving kindness) is also seen to be in accord with Buddhist Dharma. In most Buddhist branches, one may adopt vegetarianism if one so wishes but it is not considered skillful practice to verbally attack another person for eating meat.
In Chinese Mahayana, vegetarianism is seen as a prerequisite for pursuing the path of the Bodhisattva.[dubious ][citation needed] The argument for vegetarianism is made more forcefully, often to the extent of accusing those who eat meat of lacking compassion. Chinese Mahayanists do not accept the Pali suttas as definitive when they conflict with the Mahayana sutras, and consequently some do not accept that Gautama Buddha ever ate meat or permitted eating it, in accordance with the Lankavatara Sutra.

[edit] Theravada

In the Pali Canon, Buddha explicitly declared meat-eating to be karma neutral and once explicitly refused suggestion by Devadatta to institute vegetarianism in the monks' Vinaya. Buddha's advice on meat eating was directed specifically to monks. In his comment, he stated that monks and nuns are not allowed to eat meat if they have seen, heard or suspect that the meat was killed specifically for them.
Theravada commentaries explain the Buddha was making a distinction between direct destruction of life and eating of already dead meat. Moreover, they point out that the cultivation of vegetables also involves proxy killing. In fact, any act of consumption would cause some degree of proxy killing.[citation needed] Hence, the Buddha advised his followers to avoid gluttony or any other act of craving which lead to overconsumption. However, Theravadins argue that it is acceptable to practice vegetarianism based on brahmavihara.
Theravada canon does not contain Buddha making a reference for lay followers' meat eating. The distinction is rather crucial as monks and nuns beg for alms, eating left over foods of lay household. In this case, therefore, economic chain of proxy killing is largely absent. On the other hand, monks and nuns must stop collecting alms once they judge that enough amount for daily sustenance has been collected and they are not allowed to cherry pick food. Instead they must eat whatever is given to them, which may include meat.

[edit] Mahayana

Certain Mahayana sutras do present the Buddha as very vigorously and unreservedly denouncing the eating of meat, mainly on the grounds that such an act is linked to the spreading of fear amongst sentient beings (who can allegedly sense the odour of death that lingers about the meat-eater and who consequently fear for their own lives) and violates the bodhisattva's fundamental cultivation of compassion. Moreover, according to the Buddha in the Angulimaliya Sutra, since all beings share the same "Dhatu" (spiritual Principle or Essence) and are intimately related to one another, killing and eating other sentient creatures is tantamount to a form of self-killing and cannibalism. The sutras which inveigh against meat-eating include the Nirvana Sutra, the Shurangama Sutra, the Brahmajala Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra, the Mahamegha Sutra, and the Lankavatara Sutra, as well as the Buddha's comments on the negative karmic effects of meat consumption in the Karma Sutra. In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which presents itself as the final elucidatory and definitive Mahayana teachings of the Buddha on the very eve of his death, the Buddha states that "the eating of meat extinguishes the seed of Great Kindness", adding that all and every kind of meat and fish consumption (even of animals found already dead) is prohibited by him. He specifically rejects the idea that monks who go out begging and receive meat from a donor should eat it: ". . . it should be rejected . . . I say that even meat, fish, game, dried hooves and scraps of meat left over by others constitutes an infraction . . . I teach the harm arising from meat-eating." The Buddha also predicts in this sutra that later monks will "hold spurious writings to be the authentic Dharma" and will concoct their own sutras and falsely claim that the Buddha allows the eating of meat, whereas he says he does not. A long passage in the Lankavatara Sutra shows the Buddha speaking out very forcefully against meat consumption and unequivocally in favor of vegetarianism, since the eating of the flesh of fellow sentient beings is said by him to be incompatible with the compassion that a Bodhisattva should strive to cultivate. This passage has been seen as questionable.[11] In a translation by D. T. Suzuki, a note is made that this section:
This chapter on meat-eating is another later addition to the text, which was probably done earlier than the Rāvaṇa chapter....It is quite likely that meat-eating was practised more or less among the earlier Buddhists, which was made a subject of severe criticism by their opponents. The Buddhists at the time of the Laṅkāvatāra did not like it, hence this addition in which an apologetic tone is noticeable.[11]
In several other Mahayana scriptures, too (e.g., the Mahayana jatakas), the Buddha is seen clearly to indicate that meat-eating is undesirable and karmically unwholesome.
Some suggest that the rise of monasteries in Mahayana tradition to be a contributing factor in the emphasis on vegetarianism. In the monastery, food was prepared specifically for monks. In this context, large quantities of meat would have been specifically prepared (killed) for monks. Henceforth, when monks from the Indian geographical sphere of influence migrated to China from the year 65 CE on, they met followers who provided them with money instead of food. From those days onwards Chinese monastics, and others who came to inhabit northern countries, cultivated their own vegetable plots and bought food in the market.[12][13] This remains the dominant practice in China, Vietnam and part of Korean Mahayanan temples.
Mahayana lay Buddhists often eat vegetarian diets on the vegetarian dates (齋期). There are different arrangement of the dates, from several days to three months in each year, in some traditions, the celebration of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara's birthday, enlightenment and leaving home days hold the highest importance to be vegetarian.[14][15][16][17][18][19]

[edit] Vajrayana

In Tibetan Buddhism, a strong emphasis was placed on number of esoteric tantras which were transmitted from Northern India. In these tantras, it is clearly stated that the practice of Vajrayana would make vegetarianism unnecessary.[citation needed] Some Vajrayan practitioners both drink alcohol [20][21] and eat meat,.[22][23] Many traditions of the Ganachakra which is a type of Panchamakara puja prescribed the offering and ingestion of meat and alcohol, although this practice is now often only a symbolic one, with no actual meat or alcohol ingested.
The Tibetan position is that it is not necessary to be vegetarian if one practices Vajrayana,[citation needed] but that it is necessary to be vegetarian if one practices the Mahayana path. The 14th Dalai Lama and other esteemed lamas invite their audiences to adopt vegetarianism when they can. When asked in recent years what he thinks of vegetarianism, the 14th Dalai Lama has said: "It is wonderful. We must absolutely promote vegetarianism."[24] The Dalai Lama tried becoming a vegetarian and promoted vegetarianism.[25] In 1999, it was published that the Dalai Lama would only be vegetarian every other day and partakes of meat regularly.[26] When he is in Dharamsala, he is vegetarian, but not necessarily when he is outside Dharamsala.[27] Paul McCartney has taken him to task for this and wrote to him to urge him to return to strict vegetarianism, but " [The Dalai Lama] replied [to me] saying that his doctors had told him he needed [meat], so I wrote back saying they were wrong."[28]
Arjia Rinpoche became vegetarian in 1999.[29]
On 3 January 2007, one of the two 17th Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, strongly urged vegetarianism upon his students, saying that generally, in his view, it was very important in the Mahayana not to eat meat and that even in Vajrayana students should not eat meat:
There are many great masters and very great realized beings in India and there have been many great realized beings in Tibet also, but they are not saying, "I'm realized, therefore I can do anything; I can eat meat and drink alcohol." It's nothing like that. It should not be like that. According to the Kagyupa school, we have to see what the great masters of the past, the past lamas of Kagyupas, did and said about eating meat. The Drikung Shakpa [sp?] Rinpoche, master of Drikungpa, said like this, "My students, whomever are eating or using meat and calling it tsokhor or tsok, then these people are completely deserting me and going against the dharma." I can't explain each of these things, but he said that anybody that is using meat and saying it is something good, this is completely against the dharma and against me and they completely have nothing to do with dharma. He said it very, very strongly.[1]

[edit] Common practices

[edit] Theravada

In the modern world, attitudes toward vegetarianism vary by location. In Sri Lanka and the Theravada countries of South East Asia, monks are obliged by the vinaya to accept almost any food that is offered to them, including meat unless they suspect the meat was slaughtered specifically for them.

[edit] Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese traditions

In China, Korea and Vietnam, monks are expected to eat no meat. In Taiwan, Buddhist monks, nuns, and most lay followers eat no animal products or the fetid vegetables - traditionally garlic, Allium chinense, asafoetida, shallot, and Allium victorialis (victory onion or mountain leek), although in modern times this rule is often interpreted to include other vegetables of the onion genus, as well as coriander - this is called Su vegetarianism. Some Zhaijiao lay adherents do not eat any meat.

[edit] Japanese traditions

Japan initially received Chinese Buddhism through Korea in 6th century. In the 9th century, Emperor Saga made a decree prohibiting meat consumption except fish and birds. This remained the dietary habit of Japanese until the introduction of European dietary customs in the 19th century. Again around the 9th century, two Japanese monks (Kūkai and Saichō) introduced Vajrayana Buddhism into Japan and this soon became the dominant Buddhism among the nobility. In particular, Saichō, who founded the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism, reduced the number of vinaya code to 66. (Enkai 円戒) During the 12th century, a number of monks from Tendai sects founded new schools (Zen, Pure Land) and de-emphasised vegetarianism, Nichiren Buddhism today likewise de-emphasises vegetarianism. However, Nichiren himself practiced vegetarianism. Zen does tend generally to look favourably upon vegetarianism. The Shingon sect founded by Kūkai recommends vegetarianism and requires it at certain times, but it is not always strictly required for monks and nuns.

[edit] Tibetan traditions

In Tibet, where vegetables have been historically very scarce, and the adopted vinaya was the Nikaya Sarvāstivāda, vegetarianism is very rare, although the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa, and other esteemed lamas invite their audiences to adopt vegetarianism whenever they can. Chatral Rinpoche in particular, has stated that anyone who wishes to be his student must be vegetarian.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Mahavagga Pali - Bhesajjakkhandhaka - Vinaya Pitaka
  2. ^ Dharma Data: Vegetarianism
  3. ^ http://www.vipassana.info/055-jivaka-e1.htm
  4. ^ Vanijja Sutta: Business (Wrong Livelihood)
  5. ^ "Buddhism and Vegetarianism, The Rationale for the Buddha's Views on the Consumption of Meat" by Dr V. A. Gunasekara" 'The rule of vegetarianism was the fifth of a list of rules which Devadatta had proposed to the Buddha. Devadatta was the founder of the t�pasa movement in Buddhism and his special rules involved ascetic and austere practices (forest-dwelling, wearing only rags, etc). The Buddha rejected all the proposed revisions of Devadatta, and it was in this context that he reiterated the tikoiparisuddha rule. (On this see the author's Western Buddhism and a Therav�da heterodoxy, BSQ Tracts on Buddhism'
  6. ^ Buddhism & Vegetarianism
  7. ^ Life as a Vegetarian Tibetan Buddhist Practitioner
  8. ^ Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary
  9. ^ The life of Shabkar: the autobiography of a Tibetan yogin page 541
  10. ^ Angulimaliya Sutra
  11. ^ a b The Lankavatara Sutra:Chapter Eight
  12. ^ 佛教的本相 (下)
  13. ^ 《學佛素食與健康長壽》
  14. ^ 佛教各斋日
  15. ^ 礼敬佛陀--入门须知
  16. ^ 藏傳佛教吉祥日、月功德表/齋期表等等...
  17. ^ 《地藏菩萨十斋日》
  18. ^ 齋戒日
  19. ^ 為何有六齋日、十齋日、歡喜日、觀音齋、觀音七、彌陀七、拜懺
  20. ^ Mindful Drinking?
  21. ^ Buddhism and Alcohol
  22. ^ The Maitreya Sangha Way
  23. ^ Teaching on Not Eating Meat by His Holiness 17th Gyalwang Karmapa
  24. ^ Buddha Heart, Buddha Mind, 2000
  25. ^ Vegetarian Awakening in the Himalayas
  26. ^ http://www.tribuneindia.com/1999/99jan17/sunday/speaking.htm
  27. ^ A Routine Day of HH The Dalai Lama
  28. ^ "Sir Paul McCartneys advice to the Dalai Lama". The Times (London). 15 December 2008. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article5342553.ece. Retrieved 27 April 2010.
  29. ^ Arjia Lobsang Thubten Rinpoche (1950 - )

[edit] Further reading

  • Vegetarianism : Living a Buddhist life series (2004) by: Bodhipaksa
  • Releasing life (chapter 4: 'The Debate'): published by The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation, Taipei, Taiwan.
  • Phelps, Norm. (2004). The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights. Lantern Books.
  • Page, Tony (1998), Buddhism and Animals (Nirvana Publications, London)
  • Rangdrol, Shabkar Natshok. (Translated by Padmakara Translation Group.) Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat. Shambhala Publications, 2004.

[edit] External links

The Buddhist Mandala - Sacred Geometry and Art




Thank you to Nitin Kumar for granting permission to publish his Article of the Month for September 2000. Please consider visiting Exotic India Art. They offer Indian art, with Indian miniature paintings, batik art, folk art, erotic art of the kamasutra, Indian jewelry, bronze sculptures, brass statues, buddha art, and more.

Perhaps the most admired and discussed symbol of Buddhist religion and art is the mandala, a word which, like guru and yoga, has become part of the English language. Its popularity is underscored by the use of the word mandala as a synonym for sacred space in scholarship world over, and by its presence in English-language dictionaries and encyclopedias. Both broadly define mandalas as geometric designs intended to symbolize the universe, and reference is made to their use in Buddhist and Hindu practices.

The mandala idea originated long ago before the idea of history itself. In the earliest level of India or even Indo-European religion, in the Rig Veda and its associated literature, mandala is the term for a chapter, a collection of mantras or verse hymns chanted in Vedic ceremonies, perhaps coming from the sense of round, as in a round of songs. The universe was believed to originate from these hymns, whose sacred sounds contained the genetic patterns of beings and things, so there is already a clear sense of mandala as world-model.

The word mandala itself is derived from the root manda, which means essence, to which the suffix la, meaning container, has been added. Thus, one obvious connotation of mandala is that it is a container of essence. As an image, a mandala may symbolize both the mind and the body of the Buddha. In esoteric Buddhism the principle in the mandala is the presence of the Buddha in it, but images of deities are not necessary. They may be presented either as a wheel, a tree, or a jewel, or in any other symbolic manifestation.

Illustration : (Size : 135 kb)

CREATION OF A MANDALA:

The origin of the mandala is the center, a dot. It is a symbol apparently free of dimensions. It means a 'seed', 'sperm', 'drop', the salient starting point. It is the gathering center in which the outside energies are drawn, and in the act of drawing the forces, the devotee's own energies unfold and are also drawn. Thus it represents the outer and inner spaces. Its purpose is to remove the object-subject dichotomy. In the process, the mandala is consecrated to a deity.

In its creation, a line materializes out of a dot. Other lines are drawn until they intersect, creating triangular geometrical patterns. The circle drawn around stands for the dynamic consciousness of the initiated. The outlying square symbolizes the physical world bound in four directions, represented by the four gates; and the midmost or central area is the residence of the deity. Thus the center is visualized as the essence and the circumference as grasping, thus in its complete picture a mandala means grasping the essence.

Illustration : (Size : 69 kb)

CONSTRUCTION OF A MANDALA:

Before a monk is permitted to work on constructing a mandala he must undergo a long period of technical artistic training and memorization, learning how to draw all the various symbols and studying related philosophical concepts. At the Namgyal monastery (the personal monastery of the Dalai lama), for example, this period is three years.

In the early stages of painting, the monks sit on the outer part of the unpainted mandala base, always facing the center. For larger sized Mandalas, when the mandala is about halfway completed, the monks then stand on the floor, bending forward to apply the colors.

Traditionally, the mandala is divided into four quadrants and one monk is assigned to each. At the point where the monks stand to apply the colors, an assistant joins each of the four. Working co-operatively, the assistants help by filling in areas of color while the primary four monks outline the other details.

The monks memorize each detail of the mandala as part of their monastery's training program. It is important to note that the mandala is explicitly based on the Scriptural texts. At the end of each work session, the monks dedicate any artistic or spiritual merit accumulated from this activity to the benefit of others. This practice prevails in the execution of all ritual arts.

There is good reason for the extreme degree of care and attention that the monks put into their work: they are actually imparting the Buddha's teachings. Since the mandala contains instructions by the Buddha for attaining enlightenment, the purity of their motivation and the perfection of their work allows viewers the maximum benefit.

Each detail in all four quadrants of the mandala faces the center, so that it is facing the resident deity of the mandala. Thus, from the perspective of both the monks and the viewers standing around the mandala, the details in the quadrant closest to the viewer appear upside down, while those in the most distant quadrant appear right side up.

Generally, each monk keeps to his quadrant while painting the square palace. When they are painting the concentric circles, they work in tandem, moving all around the mandala. They wait until an entire cyclic phase or layer is completed before moving outward together. This ensures that balance is maintained, and that no quadrant of the mandala grows faster than another.

The preparation of a mandala is an artistic endeavor, but at the same time it is an act of worship. In this form of worship concepts and form are created in which the deepest intuitions are crystallized and expressed as spiritual art. The design, which is usually meditated upon, is a continuum of spatial experiences, the essence of which precedes its existence, which means that the concept precedes the form.

In its most common form, the mandala appears as a series of concentric circles. Each mandala has its own resident deity housed in the square structure situated concentrically within these circles. Its perfect square shape indicates that the absolute space of wisdom is without aberration. This square structure has four elaborate gates. These four doors symbolize the bringing together of the four boundless thoughts namely - loving kindness, compassion, sympathy, and equanimity. Each of these gateways is adorned with bells, garlands and other decorative items. This square form defines the architecture of the mandala described as a four-sided palace or temple. A palace because it is the residence of the presiding deity of the mandala, a temple because it contains the essence of the Buddha.

Illustration : (Size : 148 kb)

The series of circles surrounding the central palace follow an intense symbolic structure. Beginning with the outer circles, one often finds a ring of fire, frequently depicted as a stylized scrollwork. This symbolizes the process of transformation which ordinary human beings have to undergo before entering the sacred territory within. This is followed by a ring of thunderbolt or diamond scepters (vajra), indicating the indestructibility and diamond like brilliance of the mandala's spiritual realms.

In the next concentric circle, particularly those mandalas which feature wrathful deities, one finds eight cremation grounds arranged in a wide band. These represent the eight aggregates of human consciousness which tie man to the phenomenal world and to the cycle of birth and rebirth.

Finally, at the center of the mandala lies the deity, with whom the mandala is identified. It is the power of this deity that the mandala is said to be invested with. Most generally the central deity may be one of the following three:

1) Peaceful Deities: A peaceful deity symbolizes its own particular existential and spiritual approach. For example, the image of Boddhisattva Avalokiteshvara symbolizes compassion as the central focus of the spiritual experience; that of Manjushri takes wisdom as the central focus; and that of Vajrapani emphasizes the need for courage and strength in the quest for sacred knowledge.

Illustration : (Size : 51 kb)

2) Wrathful Deities: Wrathful deities suggest the mighty struggle involved in overcoming one's alienation. They embody all the inner afflictions which darken our thoughts, our words, and our deeds and which prohibit attainment of the Buddhist goal of full enlightenment. Traditionally, wrathful deities are understood to be aspects of benevolent principles, fearful only to those who perceive them as alien forces. When recognized as aspects of one's self and tamed by spiritual practice, they assume a purely benevolent guise.

Illustration: (Size : 84 kb)

3) Sexual Imagery: Sexual imagery suggests the integrative process which lies at the heart of the mandala. Male and female elements are nothing but symbols of the countless pairs of opposites (e.g. love and hate; good and evil etc.) which one experiences in mundane existence. The initiate seeks to curtail his or her alienation, by accepting and enjoying all things as a seamless, interconnected field of experience. Sexual imagery can also be understood as a metaphor for enlightenment, with its qualities of satisfaction, bliss, unity and completion.

Illustration : (Size : 110 kb)

COLOR SYMBOLISM OF THE MANDALA:

If form is crucial to the mandala, so too is color. The quadrants of the mandala-palace are typically divided into isosceles triangles of color, including four of the following five: white, yellow, red, green and dark blue. Each of these colors is associated with one of the five transcendental Buddhas, further associated with the five delusions of human nature. These delusions obscure our true nature, but through spiritual practice they can be transformed into the wisdom of these five respective Buddhas. Specifically:

White - Vairocana: The delusion of ignorance becomes the wisdom of reality.

Yellow - Ratnasambhava: The delusion of pride becomes the wisdom of sameness.

Red - Amitabha: The delusion of attachment becomes the wisdom of discernment.

Green - Amoghasiddhi: The delusion of jealousy becomes the wisdom of accomplishment.

Blue - Akshobhya: The delusion of anger becomes the mirror like wisdom.

THE MANDALA AS A SACRED OFFERING:

In addition to decorating and sanctifying temples and homes, in Tibetan life the mandala is traditionally offered to one's lama or guru when a request has been made for teachings or an initiation - where the entire offering of the universe (represented by the mandala) symbolizes the most appropriate payment for the preciousness of the teachings. Once in a desolate Indian landscape the Mahasiddha Tilopa requested a mandala offering from his disciple Naropa, and there being no readily available materials with which to construct a mandala, Naropa urinated on the sand and formed an offering of a wet-sand mandala. On another occasion Naropa used his blood, head, and limbs to create a mandala offering for his guru, who was delighted with these spontaneous offerings.

Conclusion:The visualization and concretization of the mandala concept is one of the most significant contributions of Buddhism to religious psychology. Mandalas are seen as sacred places which, by their very presence in the world, remind a viewer of the immanence of sanctity in the universe and its potential in himself. In the context of the Buddhist path the purpose of a mandala is to put an end to human suffering, to attain enlightenment and to attain a correct view of Reality. It is a means to discover divinity by the realization that it resides within one's own self.




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