A mandala is a geometric meditation map made of nested squares and circles, typically arranged to represent the center of the universe and the four main directions, east, west, north, south.
Most painted mandalas are flattened, two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional structures. For Buddhist followers, however, mandalas are not just images to view, but worlds to enter-the meditator focuses on the mandala and then imaginatively enters it, taking a mental journey towards the center.
The act of creating the mandala can be a quiet, meditative act, as well; drawing repeating patterns, especially of meaningful images or symbols, can be a calming experience that helps keep the artist centered and focused.
Jeff Durham, Associate Curator of Himalayan Art at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, answers the question “What is a mandala?” at the entrance to the exhibition, “Enter the Mandala,” at the Asian Art Museum.
From August 16-19, 2012, six Tibetan Buddhist monks travelled to San Francisco from the Drepung Loseling Phukhang Monastery in South India to create a sand mandala for the Asian Art Museum. Over four days, they meticulously applied powdered pigments to a geometric mandala outline. The monks intend that the sand mandala will generate positive effects that radiate over the entire region. They believe that the mandala’s presence will bless both the environment and the beings therein, thus making a Buddhist contribution to world peace. Once the sand mandala has been completed, this painstakingly created artwork was then destroyed and scattered. To do so spreads the sand mandala’s benefits throughout the world. It is also a concrete lesson in the impermanence of all things, a key Buddhist ideal.
Ready to Make Your Own Mandala?
- Print out “What is a mandala?” packet, which can be found under Downloads.
- Read “What is a mandala?” packet, view “Example Mandalas” packet, and watch videos to learn what a mandala is.
- Follow directions in “What is a mandala?” packet to draw your own mandala.