THE WHEEL OF COMPASSION (CHENREZIG) SAND MANDALA
Of all the artistic traditions of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, painting with coloured sand is one of the most exquisite. Mandalas are representations of the celestial mansion of one or more deities, who may be surrounded by their retinues, and other protectors. To make the Mandala, millions of grains of coloured sand are placed painstakingly in an elaborate design laid down in the Buddhist texts, which is memorised during the monks’ training. The material used is marble dust coloured by the monks in the monastery. In ancient times, powdered precious and semi-precious stones were used – truly a jewel of a structure was formed.
At the heart of the Chenrezig Mandala is a lotus upon a throne, symbolizing the Lord Chenrezig, surrounded by an eight-petalled lotus flower. Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who has decided to delay becoming a fully enlightened Buddha and who lives in a compassionate spirit life for the sake of all beings. He has taken vows to save all beings. With a
mantra, Om mani padme hum (Hail to the jewel in the lotus), he tirelessly attempts to deliver all beings from suffering, appearing in many different forms. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is the present incarnation of Chenrezig. Tibetans believe that every person whose heart is moved by love and compassion, who deeply and sincerely acts for the benefit of others without concern for fame, profit, social position, or recognition expresses the activity of Chenrezig.
To the East of the Mandala, the entrance point, is a blue dorje symbolizing Buddha Akshobhya; on the red petal to the South is a yellow jewel symbolizing Buddha Ratnasambhava. In the North is a green sword representing the symbol of Buddha Amoghasiddhi, and in the West is a white dharma wheel. These together are the symbols of the heads of the Five Buddha Families, and each is placed upon a lotus and moon throne. They are surrounded by a protective mala or rosary of Dorjes, emanating from the heart of the Lord Chenrezig. Surrounding the central residence of the Buddhas are five walls made of coloured glass, representing the Five Wisdoms. The floor of the mansion is divided into four triangles, which extend beneath the central lotus, each in the colour relating to its particular direction: East is blue, South yellow, North green and the West is white. These are also the colours of the magnificent gates which are decorated with brocade hangings and painted pillars, and carved decorations in the wood. At the top of each gate is the wheel of dharma with, seated to each side, two deer, representing the students of the Buddha.
Outside the five coloured inner walls of the palace are designs of lotus flowers on a red background, representing the Sixteen Offering Goddesses, two on either side of each gate. The practitioner should visualise circumambulating the palace in a clockwise direction, starting at the Eastern gate. Above the goddesses are jewel-encrusted walls with strings of pearls and a roof in the form of lotus petals. Outside the main walls of the palace is a beautiful garden. Two small vases on each corner of the roof of the palace hold brocade banners, and there are white umbrellas at each corner. The large vases set on the ground are planted with beautiful flowers, each containing the symbol of one of the Eight Precious Articles, and there are clouds in the sky around the gates. The Mandala is placed inside a thousand-petalled lotus flower, outside which is another protective dorje mala. Finally, there is a rainbow-coloured ring of fire acting as a protection from all negative elements.