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Complex circular artworks known as mandalas are replete with symbols relevant to Tantric Hindu and Vajrayana Buddhist beliefs. The marks have specific meanings, and when they are created during a religious ceremony the results contain powerful cosmic energies. Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The mandala (Sanskrit for “circle”) is a complex geometric design found in Tantric Hindu and Vajrayana Buddhist practice. It may be painted on a wall or on cloth or paper, and on occasion it is created as a sand painting. It may be seen as a more complex evolutionary form of the yantra, used to symbolize the cosmos, or in turn the yantra may be seen as a more specialized version of the mandala. The mandala is often understood as a symbolic palace. Such a palace may contain four gates oriented to the four corners of the earth, and it may be located within circles that form protective barriers by way of elements (such as purity, devotion, or resolve) that one must attain to enter the palace.

Inside the palace may be a selection of the many symbols of the deities and/or the faith. Buddhists may find, for example, a diamond, symbol of a clear mind; the ghanta or bell, symbol of the female; the yantra or thunderbolt, symbol of the male; the wheel of the Dharma, a symbol of the Buddhist eightfold path; or the lotus, a symbol of the Buddha’s teachings.

The mandala is made in a precise fashion and its construction integrated with a ritual that includes the chanting of mantras, words of power. The ritual accompanies the empowerment of the mandala, which, when completed, is seen as a power object of cosmic energy. Concentration upon or visualization of a mandala enables the believer to access the energy it embodies. In their most grandiose form, temples may be constructed as giant mandalas. In the twentieth century, the use of the mandala has moved into Western Esoteric thought after being brought to the West by the Theosophical Society. It has often attracted people initially as simply an object of aesthetics.


Arguelles, José, and Miriam Arguelles. Mandala. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1995.
Brauen, Martin. The Mandala: Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism. Trans. Martin Wilson. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1997.
Hall, Manley Palmer. Meditation Symbols in Eastern and Western Mysticism: Mysteries of the Mandala. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1988.
McLean, Adam. The Alchemical Mandala: A Survey of the Mandala in the Western Esoteric Traditions. Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press, 1989.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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