A photo of a yellow and green mandala.

Image: A Tibetan healing sand mandala | Freer Gallery of Art

In Buddhism a mandala is a balanced geometric pattern. The word “mandala” in sanskrit means “world in harmony.” They believe that a deity is housed in the center and the patterns around it will help guide individuals. The monks envision the mandala as a three dimensional palace and the mandala allows them to follow the path to enlightenment. Unique to Tibetan Buddhism is the construction of sand mandalas. They help with purification and healing, generate compassion, and teach about the impermanence of reality. By the time the mandala is completed, the healing and compassion reach the entire world. This means that the blessings of the mandala reach everyone, not just the ones participating in the ceremony.

In every pattern, all of the elements of the mandala have significance to some teaching or guiding principle. Combining the various possible shapes and colors create a variety of mandalas all with different lessons and teachings. Generally, each mandala has three parts: outer, inner, and secret. The outer represents the world in its divine form. The inner level represents the map that transforms a human mind. The secret level predicts “the primordially perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind.” The colored sand used to create these mandalas is ground from stone most commonly but can also be made from powdered flowers or grains.

After a teacher chooses a specific pattern to create, the ceremony will take several days to complete the mandala. First, the sight must be consecrated with sacred chants and music. First a drawing is done by memory by the monks before they start to fill the drawing in with sand. While the sand is being filled in, the monks chant and meditate to speak to the divine entities housed in the mandala. They ask them for healing blessings. Once it is filled in, the monks do more sacred chants and music. Finally, the last step is to wash away the colored sand pattern with water. The healing colored sand is poured into a river or stream to spread the healing energies to the world.