Mandala – dKyil-‘khor
Translated by Peter Roberts
When the precious Buddhadharma is being imparted it is very important for students to receive the teachings with the pure motivation, which is the wish to benefit all living beings without exception and to lead them to reliable happiness and peace.
Everyone has inner and outer conflicts and runs up against personal barriers, which vary from one person to the next. Many people lead their lives reigned by their anger, others are jealous or proud, but a major conflict people have in common is desire.
Attachment and desire can be quite varied, because there are so many things to crave; for example, some people are attached to wealth, others are preoccupied with their physical fitness, or their career, or their home, or their family, or their friends.
In general, the Tibetan Tradition teaches that meditating on a very beautiful and peaceful form of a deity, yidam in Tibetan,1 is an opportunity to turn one’s attention towards values of being instead of upon one’s personal objects of desire.
We can easily see for ourselves in which way concentrating and meditating on an extremely beautiful and extraordinary form diminishes and eventually eradicates attachment and desire for less appealing persons or objects one would otherwise have in mind.
Lord Buddha had a cousin named Gawo.2 The Buddha saw that it was time to introduce Gawo to the meaningful path of the precious Dharma. There was a problem, though. Gawo was married to a gorgeous woman called Pundarika, and they were madly in love with each other.
The Buddha exhorted Gawo, told him that clinging to samsara was the most useless thing in the world – to no avail. Poor Gawo just could not stop thinking of beautiful Pundarika. Lord Buddha decided to lead Gawo into a dense forest.
My wife is 100 times, no, 1000 times more beautiful than that monkey.”
This is the idea behind meditating peaceful and beautiful yidams; it is also the purpose of meditating on wrathful deities too, namely, in order to tame and eventually overcome one’s own emotional mind that is so disruptive and harmful.
By becoming accustomed to visualizing the outer form of a yidam and the environment as peaceful and pure - instead of succumbing to emotional urgencies - one eradicates frustrating states of mind and develops insight into the true nature of reality, which is and always has been free of any emotional stains and discursiveness that arise. If you have any questions, please ask.
Thrangu Rinpoche: This kind of vision that appears quite clearly in the mind of a very devoted disciple is similar to pure perception. It can arise on account of intense faith and devotion in the Guru and his or her yidam, but it is not what is referred to as realizing one’s true nature that is always and already present within.3
So, it is very important to focus one’s mind on the right path while alive, and Dharma certainly teaches us to turn our mind towards the right path, towards what matters most, which is virtue and goodliness.
Dharma is the healing nectar, amrita in Sanskrit, the pure medicine that can transform everything into peace and harmony. Dharma can only cause one to be good and will not bring the least harm to oneself or to other living beings.
The Dharma is very important for oneself, for family members, for societies at large. If people are hypocritical, if people are not sincere and everyone in a group or community is ambitiously concerned about himself or herself, then problems and difficulties will arise and persist.
But what do we do with the Dharma? Do we have to study it? Yes. Do we have to know it? Yes.
After having listened to the Dharma teachings, it is necessary to study and contemplate the instructions. Is that enough? No. It is necessary to integrate the precious teachings and to manifest them in all our actions and deeds.
Dharma is stable; it doesn’t cause us to experience a little suffering here, a little joy there, rather the practice of Dharma - together with receiving teachings and contemplating them - gives rise to genuine happiness and ease.
Does Dharma only help us personally? No. Transforming ourselves honestly and sincerely through practice actually betters the world we live in and gently inspires and moves our family, colleagues, and friends.
Those individuals who are ruled by their selfish and nagging impulses of anger, desire, greed, and other destructive emotions are so overwhelmed by their impulses that they can hardly be persuaded to disentangle themselves from their unsatisfactory experiences; they can’t even appreciate any occasion to be grateful and share whatever happiness or well-being they have with others.
If all members in a family appreciate the Dharma and engage in the practice, then they will be able to live in mutual accord and harmoniously. If they have love and compassion for one another, then everything will work out fine and nobody would need to suffer.
We are gathered together in a group now, and - whether you are in a group or in your family - I do want to ask you to please always keep the Dharma in mind and to practice the instructions sincerely and during all walks of life.
I wish to continue speaking about becoming accustomed to visualizing the beauty and purity of both a yidam and its surroundings so that one no longer suffers from the tension of being broken by failure or being bloated by any success one experiences in life.
By becoming accustomed to visualizing the beauty and purity of a yidam and its surroundings, one develops insight into the true nature of reality, which is and always remains untouched by any self-centred ideas or emotions that harm
By understanding the relationship between the outer and inner yidam and by practicing according to the precious instructions, a student can realize the inner nature of the own mind and manifest his or her hidden treasure that is always and already slumbering within.
The Sanskrit term mandala can be translated into Tibetan as byin-‘khor, which means “centre and periphery,” i.e., “centre and everything surrounding it, everything taking place within a specific surrounding.”
By meditating the yidam in the centre and the entire landscape as pure manifestations of being, a practitioner can realize the inseparability of his or her way of seeing the world, the term “world” referring to all objects fit to be apprehended.
There are three-dimensional structures that somewhat resemble architectural models, and each aspect is visualized as part of the entire mandala. Should a three-dimensional mandala not be available for one’s practice, then a drawing can be used to serve as a map to focus one’s attention upon. In that case, the mandala can be painted on a piece of cloth or strewn with coloured kernels on a platform or table.
In general, everything is by nature free of being pure or impure. If seen impurely, appearances manifest impurely to such a person, because he or she has given free reign to karmic tendencies that obscure pure perception and cognition.
In such cases, appearances do manifest as a menace; they can even be seen as a threat. Those living in what is defined as the hell realm really experience the very expression of their own hatred or anger.
Those living in the hungry-ghost realm really experience the very expression of their own avarice. Animals born in their realm of being live in stupidity and sadly experience the excruciating fear and pain of being devoured alive. One’s own mental state determines the realm one lives in.
What do human beings experience? The realm of human beings is, in fact, the very embodiment of great attachment and desire. Almost every thought we have, every word we speak, and every move we make is based upon our ingrained sense of need.
We always seem to need and therefore want something, and it is just this wanting that determines our actions.
When pleasures have been achieved, we want something else or more because we are bored again, so we perpetuate wanting and do what we can to satisfy our boundless desires, that started to churn the moment we were born and hardly leave us until we die. We are then born again after a short while with the very same inclination.
The Surrounding of the Pure Palace – dKyil –khor-'khor-lo7
The next concentric wall of the mandala is a ring of vajras that represent transmutation of ignorance, ignorance being uncertainty brought on by a mistaken apprehension of the way things are and the way things appear. Vajras, on the other hand, are representations of enduring, changeless, and immutable truths.9
The eight funeral grounds represent transmutation of desire and attachment. We saw that desire means being driven by wanting, which leads to never-ending pursuits. The eight funeral grounds symbolize the inner state of being free from wanting as such.10
What does this mean?
Dissatisfied with what we have and not content with anything done, frustration burns inside, and the feeling that nothing is right and that there isn’t enough arises, which is an expression of attachment and desire to have more and more.
Thrangu Rinpoche: They represent the overall transmutation of attachment and desire. In the meditation instructions, there is the practice called “the eight gates to purify desire,” so there are eight cemeteries.
It is not a matter of being dead-set on short-lived things, rather the beautiful offerings symbolize freedom from craving and wanting things that cannot possibly ever be better than those offered during mandala practice.
Student: What are the jnanas of the rings you described?
Student: Would you speak about the history of the art of making a mandala? Does this mastery originate from India? Are there different visions of the mandala or are you describing that of the Karma Kagyu Lineage? How does the mandala fit into artistic mastery?
In the Tantras, the Buddha taught and explained every detail of mandalas; he defined all measurements; for example, he taught how large the doors should be, how thick the walls should be, and the exact distance between the rings and enclosures.
There are many different kinds of mandalas, each depicting the pure realm of a specific deity. I spoke about the various mind poisons that drive people to experience life the way they do.
When the various disturbing mental fabrications have been purified and transformed, then all appearances are seen purely, and this is what makes it possible for mandalas to appear in the mind of a noble practitioner.
I am presenting a general description here and am not going into details of the different measurements and sizes.
When mandalas were painted on canvas, the measurements and sizes taught in the Tantras were strictly observed, but there were no guidelines on how to fill in the gaps between the spaces that were drawn with lines.
It is only my feeling from what I have been able to see and hear.
Impure and Pure Apprehension
Continuing with the teachings on the mandala, we learned that it is possible to visualize the mandala and that it can be made manifest in a perceivable way. Let me speak about pure and impure apprehensions now.
What takes place when one perceives appearances impurely due to conditionality that is always based on karmic latencies and tendencies within? All appearances manifest as apprehended objects perceived by an apprehending subject.
The mental consciousness misjudges perceptions by constructing thoughts that are based upon karmic latencies and not upon what is real, and, as a result, all conditioned existents that are apprehended are mistakenly divided into an apprehending mind in opposition to apprehended objects.
While the mind is impure, i.e., while the mind is obscured by karmic latencies and fixations, outer appearances seem to manifest three aspects: (1) one’s environment, (2) objects, and (3) one’s [ [own]] body.
Environment refers to the country and surroundings in which one is born due to previous causes and conditions. So the quality of one’s environment depends upon the actions performed in previous lives.
Apprehending impurely means one thinks appearances are divided into a self and others, and this split engenders negative feelings when it comes to relationships between oneself and the world of appearances.
Impure perception concerns the objects that can be perceived by any of the five sensory faculties that beings are born with, i.e., living beings can perceive forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects through their respective sensory organ.
Usually a human being is born with five sensory organs and with the ability to think and speak. In dependence upon karma, one or some sensory faculties can dysfunction, e.g., some people are born blind or handicapped, and therefore they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel differently than others.
So, as long as one clings to ephemeral experiences - outer environment, objects perceived by the senses, and one’s body - everything is experienced impurely, and disturbing emotions arise as a result.
While the mind is deluded, one’s body does cause one to experience suffering and pain, objects become a source of suffering due to fluctuating and unsatisfactory interpretations about self and others, and one’s environment seems divided into “mine,” and “yours,” and “theirs.”
When practice is perfected, then the environment, the objects perceived by the five senses, as well as one’s body will have become pure, and then all appearances naturally manifest as the radiant mandala.
Perception of an impure surrounding, impure objects, and an impure physical body will be transformed into an experience of radiant purity through mandala and yidam meditation practices. The outer ring of fire, the circle with vajras, and the eight charnel grounds correspond with the environment, i.e., transformation brings forth a pure place.
As long as one’s sensory perceptions are impure, objects will be seen as attractive, repelling, or they leave one indifferent. When the five senses are purified, all objects that appear to the mind become the very manifestation of the five types of jnana. This is why any beautiful objects depicted and shown within the pure mandala do not bring on desire or attachment.
The central palace of every mandala is square and has four gates and doors. While in the impure state that is governed by karmic circumstances and conditions, people build their houses according to their personal taste – some people prefer a round house, some a square house, and others would rather live in a rectangular house.
He only spoke about the true nature of things, just as they appear and are.
What did he teach? The Four Noble Truths.
The four gates or doors symbolize that, due to mind’s fundamental nature and the way things really are, a practitioner can realize the ultimate truth of the centre by passing through one of the four doors, either by entering through the eastern door, the western door, the northern door, or the southern door.
Whoever follows the path of the precious Buddhadharma and passes through one of the four portals will reach liberation, since “All roads lead to Rome” and here, “All ways lead to the mandala’s centre.”
Why is the palace made of precious gems?
Since we estimate their value higher than earth, water, or metals that lie around for the taking, we treat precious gems and priceless metals with much more care. Is the exquisite palace therefore only open for the wealthy and rich? No, not at all. Each precious substance is associated with a transformation of a specific mind poison into one of the five wisdoms.
When the entire chain-reaction has collapsed, i.e., been purified, then what were once objects of delusion and attachment no longer give rise to disruptive reactions in the mind of a practitioner, and, as a result, suffering and anguish cease.
For instance, we may think that possessing gold and precious gems will make us happy, so we invest all our time and energy to earn enough money to buy them. While working our heads off to one day be able to pay the price, we endure hardships, stress, and anguish.
This short account only intends to show how useless such pursuits really are, and that the precious substances are not to blame for all stress and strain one goes through in order to own them; rather attachment and desire bring on the anguish that greed always entails.
There are four kinds of fearlessness that relate to oneself and others:
In the natural purity of one’s own mind, though, both discs symbolize freedom from the darkness of ignorance. The sun-disc stands for pure means of compassion, and the moon-disc stands for pure wisdom of shunyata, emptiness.
The meditation practice of visualizing the offerings that surround the inner palace, the palace walls, the palace gates, thrones, as well as the sun and moon discs purifies the objects that are perceived by any of the first consciousnesses.
We saw that meditating the rings that encircle a mandala transforms impure apprehension of one’s environment; meditating the outer structure and inner palace of the buddhas and residence of the yidams transforms cognition of the objects perceived by the five sensory faculties. Meditating the yidam transforms one’s own body. How do we practice the last?
After having given rise in one’s imagination to the entire realm of the mandala and the yidams in the pure palace, a practitioner now imagines that the yidam’s pure form radiates light out to invite the jnanas (ye-she-pa in Tibetan).14
(1) one immediately receives the blessings of the buddhas and bodhisattvas and, furthermore, (2) one develops and increases one’s inner potential by realizing and manifesting jnana in its manifold forms.
I will end my instructions for now. You are welcome to ask questions.
Thrangu Rinpoche: I have given a general description of yidam practice. For instance, Guru Yoga or Dorje Sempa meditations are simplified practices in which no mandala is needed. In these meditation practices, it is not necessary to visualize a mandala with surroundings and palace; rather, one only imagines the deity in space and many offerings flowing to them.
Rinpoche: Through proficiency in apprehending purely and through having purified and transformed one’s inhibitions and karmic tendencies into jnana, ye-shes, then the mandala manifests exactly as I described it, because mandalas are the pure realm of a yidam, which is the innate reality of all that appears.
Student: Can you tell us how the wrathful form of the deities could come and help? Anger is so strong when things don’t work out. Rinpoche: Actually, there are two types of meditation practice that help us pacify obstacles. One practice is imagining that everything manifests as your greatest problem and involvement.
The other practice is imagining that everything manifests as the opposite of your greatest problem and involvement. When it comes to desire, attachment, and greed, a practitioner imagines things that are so much more beautiful and exceptional than what he or she usually thinks of.
When it comes to the problem of anger, a practitioner imagines a yidam that is so much more ferocious and terrifying than his or her own anger; then he or she stops being angry and slowly but surely learns to let things be instead of responding in rage.
Sometimes five deities accompany the main yidam; they represent the five purified skandhas. Sometimes as many as fifty-one deities surround the central figure; they represent the purified fifty-one fluctuating mental events.
Thank you very much.
May virtue increase!
With sincere gratitude to Lee Miracle, Director of Karma Mahasidda Ling in Idyllwild for managing and assisting so patiently with the website of Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche. Transcribed and edited by Gaby Hollmann, 2002/2007, responsible for any mistakes.
1 Yidam means ‘to commit oneself, to set one’s mind on something.” The word yid means ‘the conceptual mind,” and the word dam means “to commit.” Yidams are the transcendental aspects of one’s commitment. -
See Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary, online. - On this occasion I wish to insert the short gratification noted in the online edition of this most invaluable dictionary: “Nitartha extends thanks to Erik Pema Kunsang (Erik Hein Schmidt) for his permission to use the dictionary, and to Mr. Gerry Wiener and Mr. Demetrius Johnson, who have made the online version of this dictionary possible.”
The Three Roots are
the Guru who is the root of the blessings and the transmission of abilities, the yidams who are the root of spiritual powers (siddhis), and the protectors who are the source of all activities to be accomplished.”
More precisely, one can recognize six bardos: the bardo of birth and life (skye-gnas-bar-do), of meditative concentration (sam-gtan-bar-do), of dream (rmi-lam-bar-do), of the instant of death (‘chi-kha-bar-do), of the absolute nature (chos-nyid-bar-do), and of seeking a new existence (srid-pa-bar-do).
5 Shantideva was the great Mahasiddhas who lived from approximately 685 until 763 AD. He composed the Bodhicharyavatara, “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” which has been translated by the Padmakara Translation Group (Shambhala Publications, Boston & London, 2003).
The simultaneous translation of the instructions transcribed here for the word “centre” sounded like byin, which could point to nying-po, the Tibetan equivalent of the root of the Sanskrit term, manda, which means “essence.”
There are also the five wisdoms, aspects of how the cognitive quality of Buddha nature functions: dharmadhatu wisdom, mirror-like wisdom, wisdom of equality, discriminating wisdom, and all-accomplishing wisdom.
(1) Cool Grove, Sitavana, in the east, (2) Perfected in Body to the south, (3) Lotus Mound to the west, (4) Lanka Mound to the north, (5) Spontaneously Accomplished Mound to the south-east, (6) Display of Great Secret to the south-west, (7) Pervasive Great Joy to the north-west, and (8) World Mound to the north-east. -
It is also interesting to note what Matthieu Ricard writes in reliance upon Longchen Rabjam about what is worth burying. He wrote that there are “eight conditions that cause one to drift away from the Dharma and eight conditions that limit one’s natural potential to attain freedom. The first ones are: (1) To be greatly disturbed by the five poisonous emotions;
(1) To be fettered by one's family, wealth and occupations so that one does not have the leisure to practice the dharma; (2) to have a wicked nature that leads to extremely bad conduct, so that even when one meets a spiritual teacher it is very hard for one to turn one's mind to the dharma;
(3) to have no fear of the suffering of samsara and therefore no feeling of renunciation or no weariness at all of samsara; (4) to lack the jewel of faith and therefore have no inclination whatsoever to meet a spiritual teacher and enter the threshold of the teachings; (5) to delight in negative actions and have no compunction about them, thus turning one's back to the dharma; (6) to have no more interest in the dharma than a dog for grass and therefore to be unable to develop any positive quality;
(8) having entered the extraordinary path of the vajrayana, to have broken one's samaya with one's teacher and vajra brothers and sisters, and thus have no chance of achieving any realization.” Matthieu Ricard, Eight conditions, in: Rywiki.org, 2006.
11 See Milarepa, “Eight Things to Remember,” “Twelve Kinds of Yogic Joy,” and “Thirty-Three Kinds of Yogic Joy,” in: Selected Songs of Realization, as taught by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamsto Rinpoche. Translated & arranged by Jim Scott, Aktuell-Copy-Shop, Hamburg, 1996.
12 For a detailed description of the five wisdoms, see Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Transcending Ego: Distinguishing Consciousness from Wisdom. Translated by Peter Roberts, Namo Buddha Publications, Boulder, 2001.
13 dKyil-‘khor, “the inner Palace,” also means “the square table, where all the offerings are arranged.” It is also called “offering seat” (mchod-khri), “offering table” (mchod-stegs), and “shrine” (mchod-gshom).”