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Mandara

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Also written 曼陀羅 or 曼拏羅. Mandala.


A diagram that depicts Buddhist deities according to certain geometric formats and illustrates the Buddhist world view.

The term mandara is a transliteration of Sanskrit mandala, signifying a 'circle' or 'altar'.

In Japan the transliteration 曼荼羅 is sometimes used to refer specifically to the mandara of Esoteric Buddhism mikkyou 密教, while 曼陀羅 is used to denote the mandara like painting of Pure Land Buddhism, but the original Sanskrit term is the same.

The practice of arranging images in certain patterns may be observed already in the triads found at Gandhara and Mathura, and with the development of Esoteric Buddhism or Tantrism in India around the 6c. this triadic format evolved into a primitive form of the mandara.

As Tantric thought developed, various doctrinal concepts came to be associated with specific deities, and this then led to the development of systematically arranged mandara on a large scale.

In the early and middle periods of Tantric history, the usual method of arranging the deities was based on the Buddha, Lotus and Vajra families, with deities belonging to the Lotus and Vajra families being arrayed symmetrically to the right and left of the central deity.

But after the emergence of the *Kongoukai mandara 金剛界曼荼羅 (ca. 8c) this three-family format came to be replaced by a five-family format, with deities belonging to the Tathagata, Vajra, Gem, Lotus and Action families being disposed uniformly in the center and in the east, south, west and north quarters .


Depending upon their composition, mandara may be classified into three types: a comprehensive mandara depicting deities from all 'divisions' or 'families', bu

is called a toe mandara 都会曼荼羅 or tobu mandara 都部曼荼羅, a mandara depicting deities belonging to a single family is called a bue mandara 部会曼荼羅 or

betsubu mandara 別部曼荼羅, and a mandara centered on a single deity and relatively small in scale is called a *besson mandara 別尊曼荼羅.

Representative of the toe mandara are the Kongoukai mandara described in the KONGOUCHOUKYOU 金剛頂経 (Sk: Sarvatathagatatattvasamgraha) and the *Taizoukai mandara 胎蔵界曼荼羅 described in the DAINICHIKYOU 大日経 (Sk:Vairocanabhisambodhi-sutra), and this pair of mandara is known in Japan as the *Ryoukai mandara 両界曼荼羅 or Ryoubu mandara 両部曼荼羅.

Other forms of toe mandara are also described in Tantric texts, but virtually no examples exist in Japan, and although the bue mandara also exists on a theoretical level, it too is rare.

The besson mandara, being centred on a single deity were produced in great numbers in Japan because of the popularity of

esoteric rites dedicated to specific deities bessonhou 別尊法 and they are classified according to the type of deity into the Buddha familybutsubu 仏部; Buddha-crown family *Butchou 仏頂; sutra-rite division, kyouboubu 経法部; Kannon family *Kannon 観音; bodhisattva family *bosatsu 菩薩; myouou family *myouou 明王; family of gods and others *ten .

In India, mandara were originally drawn with powdered pigment on a raised platform formed of earth mixed with cow dung.

This type of mandara required considerable time and labour to construct, and was destroyed after the completion of the rite for which it had been made, so in China and Japan graphic

representations in scroll form that could be hung on a wall came to be used instead. The *shiki mandara 敷曼荼羅, which can be spread out like a carpet and is used during rites of initiation, preserves elements of the original earthen mandara.

Depending upon the manner in which the deities are depicted, mandara may also be classified into the following four types *shishu manadara 四種曼荼羅:

daimandara 大曼荼羅, in which the deities are shown in their physical forms;


in which they are indicated by means of Sanskrit syllables; and *katsuma mandara 羯磨曼荼羅, in which they are represented by means of three-dimensional images. The mandara was first introduced to Japan by Saichou 最澄 (766-822),

the founder of the Tendai 天台 sect, who in 805 brought back from China the

sanjuushichisonyou 三十七尊様, depicting the deities of the Kongoukai mandara, and the Daibutchou tsuuyou mandara 大仏頂通用曼荼羅, a variety of besson mandara.

But for the full-scale introduction of the mandara Japan had to wait until the following year (806), when *Kuukai 空海 (774-835), the founder of the Shingon 真 言 sect, brought back copies of the Ryoukai mandara.

Even since, the mandara has been the main form of iconography in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism.

Not only has it served as the basis for a large proportion of Buddhist iconography, but through the medium of Kukai's writings it has also exerted considerable influence on the history of Japanese thought.

The mandara has thus occupied an important position in the history of Japanese culture.

This is reflected in the use of the term mandara to also refer to graphic representations of non-Tantric deities, as in the joudo mandara 浄土曼荼羅 of Pure Land Buddhism,

the suijaku mandara 垂迹曼荼羅 associated with Shinto (see *Shintou bijutsu 神道美術), the *sankei mandara 参詣曼荼羅 depicting a specific shrine or temple, and the Kanjou jikkai mandara 勧請十界曼荼羅 devised by *Nichiren 日蓮 (1222-82). This is a development peculiar to Japan. The mandara in Japan have the same origins as the mandara

still found in Nepal and Tibet, but have major differences in format. Firstly, whereas in the case of Nepalese and Tibetan mandara a protective circle of

flames and vajras is drawn around the pavilion within which the deities are depicted, the Japanese mandara shows only a quadrangular schematized pavilion or a

pavilion in concrete form, but with no peripheral structure.

Square mandara without any peripheral structure, thought to date from the 8c-9c, have been discovered at Dunhuang (Jp:Tonkou 敦煌) and so the Japanese style

may be closer to the original format of the mandara. Secondly, in the Nepalese and Tibetan mandara all the attendant deities are depicted in a radial manner facing the central deity,

but in the Japanese mandara they all face the same direction as the central deity.

This is thought to be because if the attendant deities were depicted facing the center in the hanging mandara that came into general use in Japan, those

positioned in front of the central deity would appear upside down, thereby creating a sense of imbalance.

But even in Japan the deities are drawn facing the centre in the case of the shiki mandara, which is spread over an altar.


Transliteration of the Sanskrit mandala, objects originally of Buddhist origin created to express fundamental doctrines or ideas. Mandala in the form of pictures were used at Buddhist ritual sites, particularly as decorative depictions of the beatific scenes of Paradise. Based on the significance of the

Buddhist mandala, iconographic scroll paintings (zuzō mandara) began to appear in temple rituals from the late Heian period as part of rites to invoke (kanjō) the protection of kami, and this use gradually spread from the Kamakura period on. Types of mandala differed depending upon their purpose and use, but they can


be broadly divided into the aforementioned iconographic mandala, and miya mandara (shrine mandala), which were created for the benefit of pilgrims and confraternities as means of elucidating the sacred histories and spiritual powers of the various shrines.

Iconographic mandala include honji-butsu mandara, which depict kami in the guise of their "original-essence Buddha" (honjibutsu); suijaku mandara, which portray the image of the kami while omitting the honjibutsu; and the honjaku mandara, which depict both honjibutsu and kami together (see honji suijaku).

In contrast, miya mandara included both those which placed emphasis on the portrayal of shrine buildings and precincts, and were used as foci of worship; and

so-called sankei mandara (pilgrimage mandala), which depicted various sights found at shrines together with their rituals, history, miracles, and lively scenes of pilgrims (sankeisha), and which were used by itinerant religious "picture tellers" (etoki) in order to educate people.


Okada Yoshiyuki

Mount Mandar


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