Explanation of the Meaning and Use of a Mandala
Tonight we are going to speak about mandalas. The Tibetan word for a mandala, kyilkor (dkyil-‘khor), means literally “that which encircles a center,” goes around a center. And “Center” here, what it means is “a meaning,” and that which encircles it is a symbol, or a representation of the meaning. So, a mandala is basically a round symbol, or a representation of some sort of a deep meaning that it stands for. They don’t all have to be round, however, that’s just an expression that’s used. They’re not all round.
Now there’s a difference between a symbol and a representation – some mandalas are symbols and some are representations – so let me point that out. A symbol is something that the meaning of it is obvious to anybody who encounters it. You don’t really have to be told what it means, like for instance a round, white circle is a symbol for a moon. It’s quite obvious what it stands for, that’s a symbol. Whereas a representation is something that it is not so obvious what it means at all and it has to be explained to us. For instance, a vajra is a representation of method and a bell is a representation of wisdom. It’s not at all obvious if you just see a vajra and bell what they stand for, is it? That’s a representation, they’re not symbols, so you have to be told what the representation means. Like that, some mandalas are symbols, some are representations.
There are lots of different types of mandalas, and they’re used for many, many different purposes, both in sutra and tantra. So first I’d like to give a little bit of a survey of what are the most common types of mandalas that we find used in Buddhism, and then, if we have time, I’ll go a little bit more deeply into some of these.
First of all, we have outer mandalas. An outer mandala is a representation of a world-system and one of the types of mandalas which are used for offering, making offerings. That’s one of the big uses of a mandala. And so we offer a mandala – an outer mandala, a world-system – to a spiritual teacher when we request teachings, when the teacher confers on us any of the sets of vows, or when we request an initiation. You always offer a mandala before. And then, when it’s finished, you offer a mandala of thanksgiving. This is absolute standard for all these things in Buddhism.
What’s represented here by the mandala is, we’re giving the whole universe, everything – both what we ourselves own and, more specifically, just the things of the world that nobody in particular might own – we’re giving that in order to receive the teaching, or vows, or empowerment. So, if we are willing to give the universe to receive a teaching, then, obviously, within that universe we are willing to give our time, and our energy, and our hearts completely to the teaching, to the vows, to the initiation.
And we represent the universe usually in one of two ways: either you have a flat-bottomed bowl, which is held upside down, and you put mounds of rice – or if you have jewels, you put mounds of jewels – inside, with a ring around it, and you make three levels of it, and you put a fancy type of jeweled top, like a little crown, on top. That’s one way of representing the universe. Not at all obvious that that’s a universe, is it? So that’s a representation.
Or, the other way of representing the universe is with a hand-mudra, in which our fingers are arranged in a certain way that represents the universe. It’s quite interesting, when we look at it, it’s not that what we do represents – and in a sense it represents – the universe, but if we look at it a little bit more technically, this is a basis for imputation of a universe. It’s not that you just visualize the universe; to visualize something there has to be a basis. To impute something conceptually there has to be a basis on which you impute it. And so this plate with the rice, or the fingers is the basis.
You’re not just offering a plate of rice to the teacher or your fingers to the teacher – what does the teacher want with your fingers? You’re offering the universe. So, as a symbol, this is an appropriate basis for labeling onto it the whole universe, which is what you imagine that you’re offering. You’re not just imagining you’re offering fingers or rice; you imagine you’re offering the whole universe. So, that’s then important when we make these offerings, to visualize and imagine that actually we’re offering the universe, not just the basis for labeling, not just the representation which acts as the basis for labeling the universe.
The universe is here the way it’s depicted in abhidharma, this is one possibility, with the Mount Meru and the four continents around. The fingers in the mudra have the characteristics of the Mount Meru, the two fingers in the center, and the four continents around, four crossed fingers around. This is how it can serve as a basis for labeling an actual Mount Meru and four continents.
There’s a slightly different description of Mount Meru and the four continents in the Kalachakra teachings. In Kalachakra, we offer the mandala conceived in terms of [the] Kalachakra description of the universe. And so because of that – because there are these two descriptions of the universe that we offer in a mandala in Buddhism – His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that we can likewise visualize offering the universe the way that science depicts it, either the whole earth, or the solar system, or the galaxy, or the whole universe. In other words, we should offer the universe in a form that makes sense to us, so that the offering is sincere. If we offer it with the Mount Meru in a certain shape and continents, it seems like a silly game, so there’s no feeling to it, there’s no emotion to it, so that’s not very helpful. So His Holiness said, “Go! Solar system, little planets going around, whatever you want to offer,” like that.
This offering of an external mandala is also done as part of the special preliminary practices that we do to build up a tremendous amount of positive force to be able to have some success in tantra practice. In this context we offer the mandala a hundred thousand times, minimum – not just for a “Klausur,” not just for a retreat – we do this in order to get success in tantra practice in general, although it is true, if you do a three-year retreat, you do all these preliminaries again to start that three-year retreat, even if you’ve done them before. And when we offer the mandala like this, then we are offering it to usually a visualized assembly of Buddhas, and bodhisattvas, and lineage masters.
It’s important that you offer it to somebody – again, it’s not just a game. The point is to build up, through making this offering, a tremendous amount of positive force, and that depends very much on the state of mind with which we make these offerings. The three most important elements that we need in our state of mind [are] proper motivation, level of concentration, and the depth of our understanding of voidness. We were talking about the voidness of ourselves making the offering, the objects to whom we offer it, the voidness of the mandala itself – what we’re offering – and the voidness of the action of making the offering.
You don’t make a big deal out of it, “Oh, how wonderful I am that I’m offering it,” or, “How wonderful you are, that I’m offering it to you,” and “How beautiful this mandala is,” and so on. We don’t concretize any of these things. Obviously, if we make the mandala offering a hundred thousand times as a big ego-trip just to increase our pride of, “Well, I’ve done a hundred thousand,” it’s not going to be very effective in building up pure positive force, is it?
This can build up a tremendous amount of positive force if done properly, and you can see this with the example from the life of Tsongkhapa. Tsongkhapa worked very, very hard to get this understanding of voidness. He had already done many years of intensive retreat on voidness meditation and he wasn’t satisfied – and Tsongkhapa was no dummy, he was very intelligent – he wasn’t satisfied. And so he went into another retreat and he offered eighteen sets of a hundred thousand mandala offerings and thirty-five sets of a hundred thousand prostrations in order to build up the positive force to really understand voidness, to get a nonconceptual understanding of it – and not at the beginning stage, the point at which Tsongkhapa started to do this is so far ahead, no way we can possibly hope to reach it with our limited minds. It really is quite impressive and inspiring that from his point, he needed to build up so much more positive force to go further. So, obviously this offering of the whole universe has a very, very deep significance, and if we have time we’ll go back and look a little bit more deeply about why this is so effective in building up so much positive force – if done properly, of course.
There are other levels of offering mandalas, and this is in connection with the highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga, the fourth class of tantra. In this class of tantra there are four initiations, four empowerments, and parallel to these four there are four types of regular offering and four types of mandala offering. So we have the outer mandala offering, and then there’s the offering of the inner mandala. Here we’re offering different aspects of our body – not the external world, but the internal, our body – so for instance, the body can also be a representation of Mount Meru and the four continents. The spine is Mount Meru, the four limbs are the four continents; you make an offering of the body, inner things. And basically we’re offering our whole body – the aggregates, and the elements, and all the energy-channels, and all these things – for practice.
Then there’s the secret or hidden mandala offering. “Secret” or “hidden” are just two ways of translating the same word. This can be explained two ways: either it’s an offering of our blissful awareness, in general, or it could be the blissful awareness of voidness with the subtlest mind, the clear-light mind. So, we offer this to reach enlightenment, basically. We use this to reach enlightenment. That’s a mandala. And we make a mandala out of that, an offering, so a representation. Although it is a special type of mandala, it’s not like a special plate or something like that, it is not usually represented like that. It could be represented by a beautiful maiden [a dakini].
Then, the fourth one is the mandala of the very nature of reality, it’s usually translated “thusness mandala.” “Thusness” is a very awkward word, it means nature of reality. That can be the offering of either the understanding of voidness, our understanding of voidness, that’s one level of its meaning, or it can be the offering of basically the two truths, so what we’re offering is the blissful understanding of voidness with clear-light mind and the simultaneous appearance of ourselves as a Buddha-figure and this is in connection with tantra, highest tantra. We offer that. So these are the offering mandalas that we make, four different levels of offering mandalas, and they’re basically connected with four different, progressively advanced levels of tantra practice.
There are also mandalas as the basis from which we receive empowerments or initiations. You can always tell, if it’s an actual empowerment – and I prefer the word “empowerment” rather than “initiation,” [but] whatever you want to use – if it’s an actual empowerment, the first part of it is conferred on the basis of a mandala. If it’s a subsequent permission – that’s called a jenang (rjes-snang) in Tibetan – you don’t have a mandala, you have a torma (gtor-ma), this barley cake, and it’s conferred on the basis of that as a representation of a Buddha-figure. So you can always tell the difference in the ceremony.
There are many different types of empowerments, but we have the vase empowerment – the vase empowerment you find in all four classes of tantra. It’s conferred on the basis of the symbolic mandala world in which the Buddha-figure, or a set of Buddha-figures lives – that’s the mandala of Chenrezig, or the mandala of Vajrabhairava, or the mandala of Kalachakra – it’s their world that they live in, and it’s conferred on the basis of a representation of that world. And the mandala consists of what’s called a supporting mandala – that’s the palace and the environment – and the supported mandala, that’s the set of all the figures that live in it. It’s both. A deity system is not just one figure; there’s many of them in the mandala.
During that vase empowerment, there can be four different types of mandalas, or bases that will represent this world-system of the Buddha-figure, the yidam. What’s most commonly used is the cloth mandala. A cloth mandala – it could be paper as well – is a cloth or a paper, on which you have the two-dimensional representation of this world-system painted. These days sometimes they even use a photograph.
On the basis of this painting then we impute and imagine a whole three-dimensional world. When they say, “Now you enter the mandala,” it’s not that now you become a two-dimensional being and you’re walking on this paper. We’re imagining a three-dimensional world – huge, enormous – and it’s just on the basis of this drawing that it’s imputed. So, this is the type of mandala that we usually see, these paintings. Very many people have the mistaken notion that you actually visualize these two-dimensional designs. Nobody visualizes these two-dimensional designs, so everyone visualizes three-dimensional buildings on this two-dimensional picture. It’s merely like an architect’s blueprint for the building.
Or, if any of you are familiar with science, it’s a little bit like a hologram. For a hologram you have a two-dimensional film that contains all the information of a three-dimensional image, and if the light hits that film in a certain way, you get a three-dimensional hologram, just like that. That I think is far more analogous to the process here. On the basis of this two-dimensional film having all the information – like the measurements and so on, and the design of the three-dimensional building – then with your mind, you make a mental hologram of the universe. That I find actually a very helpful way of explaining it, and of understanding, actually. Then it’s quite clear that it’s like an illusion, and the voidness of this three-dimensional world.
This palace is square, it usually has two stories, sometimes more, and in the middle of each of the four sides there’s a very large portal and an entrance hallway – it’s quite elaborate – and outside this elaborate portal, on the outside of the building, is an archway, on each of the four sides. The building has very detailed architectural features. This is all in ancient Indian style, you see things a little bit like this in the South Indian temples actually, especially these archways. But the roofs of the temples are a little bit Chinese style, so it’s a little bit mixed, as is often with certain things in Tibetan culture – this mix of a little bit of Indian, a little bit of Chinese, and a little bit of native Tibetan. This universe, this world-system for the vase initiation can be represented by a cloth mandala, so that’s the first kind [of mandala used in vase empowerments].
The second kind would be a powdered sand mandala. This is making a two-dimensional representation of the world-system, instead of painting it is made out of different kinds of colored, powdered minerals. So it has a little bit of depth, it’s a few centimeters thick. Both the cloth and the powder mandala is usually, during the ceremony, placed on a table that is arranged like a little bit of a palace, with a wooden frame, and a little roof over it, and curtains on the four sides – so very obvious that this is an empowerment, an initiation, if it’s a subsequent permission, it doesn’t have that at all, it’s the torma on the side.
The third basis from which it can be given – this is only in some of the mother anuttarayoga tantras, so we are only talking about the fourth class of tantra, within that only mother tantra, and within mother tantra only some of them – it can be given from a body mandala. The tantric master has “actualized” – this is the technical term, “actualized” means actually transformed different parts of his or her subtle body – the energy-channels and things – into the supporting and supported mandalas: the various parts of the building and the various figures inside. And it’s on that basis – with that transformation that the tantric master has actually done – that the initiation is given. That’s the world-system. We find this with Chakrasamvara, it’s also called Heruka, we find this with Vajrayogini, we find this with Chittamani Tara, we find this with Hevajra. Those are the main ones that have this initiation from a body mandala. In order to receive an empowerment from a body mandala you need to have received an empowerment from one of the other mandalas first. That’s very strictly followed in the Gelug tradition and the Sakya tradition as well.
The fourth basis for receiving a vase empowerment is called the mandala of mental constancy, constant level of mind, or a mandala of concentration. That’s found in all classes [of tantra.] The basis here is what the tantric master has actualized from his samadhi, from his absorbed concentration, not just imagining, but actually being able to make it from his concentration. We might not be able to see it, but he actually made it from his concentration and it can be offered on the basis of that, for very, very special disciples who are very, very poor and don’t have anything to offer, like in the middle of the wilderness of Tibet.
Some masters are really able to sustain such a vivid – not quite a visualization, it’s actually there. I remember, Ling Rinpoche, the late senior tutor of His Holiness, was the expert par excellence of Yamantaka, Vajrabhairava. Once he gave a discourse on it that I attended, and he was describing the mandala palace, and he just pointed to the architectural features, “Over there it looks like this, and here it’s like that.” And he just pointed; I mean it was just so there for him all the time that he could just point, like pointing to what we see on the wall. That strength needs to be there in order to give such an empowerment based on mental constancy. Very, very impressive, I must say.
Sometimes, although it’s not counted in the four different types of bases, they make an actual three-dimensional mandala. You can see these in Dharamsala, they have them at the library. They’re made out of wood, or made out of plastic, in some places it’s made out of bronze. It’s like an actual three-dimensional doll-house. This is one of the great things that Tsongkhapa had at Ganden monastery, enormous three-dimensional palaces of the three major Gelug tantras. So it can also be offered on the basis of that.
Then, in tantra there are the four empowerments, the vase is just the first. There are three other empowerments and they’re offered on the basis of other, deeper types of mandalas. I think we’ll not go into that, this is a little bit complex, we don’t have so much time. But there are yet other mandalas that they’re offered on the basis of, like a round symbol of drops – usually it’s drops of tea and yoghurt – which represent some special subtle bodhichitta drops [of subtle energy] within the body, these type of things.
Now, when we do tantra practice, then there are different levels of mandalas that we visualize. So first we have mandala symbolic discs. Some of these are symbols, like for instance a moon and a sun, like a seat – a round cushion like a moon, a white moon, and a red sun. These are mandalas, they’re called mandalas, a moon mandala and a sun mandala. They’re symbols which you sit on. And actually, for most of the Buddha-figures, we’re on the lotus, a sun and a moon, or a moon and the sun on top. The lotus is both a symbol and it represents something as well. The lotus represents renunciation, the moon represents bodhichitta, the sun represents the understanding of voidness. And so the arising of the Buddha-figures [is] always on the basis of the three principal paths: renunciation, bodhichitta, and voidness. So here the moon and the sun are called mandalas.
Then, also we have the mandalas of the elements: an earth mandala, a water mandala, a fire mandala, a wind mandala, and a space mandala. These are representations, like for the earth mandala it’s a square and yellow. We visualize these in various portions of the tantra practice. Often they’re underneath the world-system, the palace and the things around the palace. And often, like in the Yamantaka practice, this comes right after the meditation on the clear light of death voidness meditation, which is basically voidness meditation done in the analogy of what happens when we die. And when we are reborn again, then the clear-light mind connects with the grosser levels, the physical body, so it connects in stages with the elements of a gross body, and so that’s represented by these element mandalas underneath the mandala in which we appear, like a rebirth. It’s to purify all of that, that whole process, that’s why you visualize those elements underneath your palace, to show that it’s come out of clear light.
In the Kalachakra system, we have mandalas of different heavenly bodies, so we visualize a mandala of a moon and a sun and the two planets that are involved with the eclipse of the sun and the moon, called Rahu and Kalagni, and these represent the four subtle drops within the body that have to do with how the mind makes appearances. It represents that, and we stand on that as Kalachakra.
So, anyway, the point is that in all these visualizations that we do, we’re either sitting on, or standing on, or the palace is sitting on various mandalas of things – the sun, a moon, planets, and elements and so on – and they all represent very significant things, they’re not just there for decoration. Because they represent something, they’re called mandalas. Sometimes you have them in your heart, suns and moons, these things. It all represents something, they’re all called mandalas – usually voidness and bodhichitta, that’s the most common, the sun and the moon.
Then there are the mandala palaces that we visualize in the practice and I’ve already described them, the square, the four portals and so on. In that, each of the architectural features represents something, represents some insight that we need to have along the path, as all the arms and legs of the figure also represent something, some sort of insight on the path. For instance, the four sides stand for the understanding of the four noble truths, that’s why it has four sides; and it has five colors, the floor is always divided [so that] each side is a different color and the center is the fifth color, and so the colors of the walls are usually five layers in thickness of the same five colors. And that stands for the five types of deep awareness, mirror-like, awareness of equality...these things that we need to develop.
When we visualize ourselves, we visualize ourselves as both the supporting and the supported mandala, we’re both. It’s like we’re both the skin and the stuff inside the body, we’re both. This is as a device that helps us to keep all these things in our minds, be mindful of them all at the same time, “Ah, the five colors, the five deep awarenesses, and the four truths,” all of this stuff, all at the same time. A mandala is used for that. That’s its most significant usage really.
The final type of mandala that I want to discuss is the body mandala. We already touched on this a little bit in terms of vase empowerment can be given from the body mandala of the spiritual teacher, but we also – in some tantra practices – imagine that we have a body mandala. We have the body mandala in some father tantras, not all, for instance in Guhyasamaja we have it, and we have it in some, not all mother tantras, for instance Chakrasamvara and Vajrayogini. But only in mother tantra can initiation be given from a body mandala, it’s not in father tantra. In father tantra, a body mandala is made from the gross body – the aggregates, the elements, the limbs, the arms and legs – these parts of the gross body are generated as parts of the building and the various Buddha-figures, whereas in mother tantra it’s the various channels of the subtle energy-system that’s transformed into the deities and the palace. The main emphasis in mother tantra is on the deities. I haven’t really come across that they do the palace as well. And Hevajra, which in Sakya is classified as nondual, has the body mandala from both: parts of the gross body and parts of the subtle body. That’s why it’s called nondual in Sakya; Gelug calls it mother.
Now, let me just add one technical point here, so you have a clear idea. They talk about transforming the body, our ordinary body into this. We’re talking about the ordinary body, like our aggregates, or our elements, use that as an example. They are what’s called an obtaining cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu) – there are about six different types of causes discussed in Buddhism – and “obtaining,” it’s what obtains or gets to the result. So, for example, a seed is the obtaining cause of the sprout, in other words, the seed is what the sprout comes from, and when you get the sprout, the seed no longer exists. That’s an obtaining cause. So, the aggregate gives rise to this Buddha-figure and then you no longer have this ordinary, impure aggregate, like a seed giving rise to a sprout. It’s helpful to know in terms of what are you actually doing with a body mandala.
That’s very different from the type of cause which is, for instance, the clay that becomes a pot, a piece of pottery, or the dough that becomes a bread. It’s still dough, the material is still there. We’re not talking about that kind of cause, where the material is there and it just sort of changes its form in terms of the result. Buddhism makes all these very careful distinctions of different types of causes. So it’s not that parts of our body are transformed, like from clay into a clay pot, in terms of these Buddha-figures. It’s like a seed giving rise to a sprout: it’s no longer the ordinary aggregates, now it’s this whole world-system of these Buddha-figures, which is what you want to do from the body, as a substitute for the body in terms of becoming enlightened.
That’s a body mandala and you work with that in your visualization. It’s quite profound, if you understand what type of cause we’re talking about here. So what we want to do, it’s not that our ordinary body becomes the enlightened body of a Buddha, like dough becoming a bread. The enlightened body of a Buddha, in a sense it’s like a seed giving rise to a sprout, this body is completely finished, we don’t have this ordinary body as a Buddha, not at all. It gives a lot to think about, actually, and doing the body mandala practice helps very much in understanding this and working with this. Those are all representations, so that’s a mandala.
Now there’s one more point I’d like to explain. When we offer the offering mandala, we say a verse, and this verse gives a lot to think about. The verse is: “This base, which is purified,” sprinkled actually, “with incensed water,” that’s water which is consecrated with the smoke of incense, and which is “strewn with flowers,” once it’s purified, then flowers are put on it, and which is “adorned with Mount Meru, the four continents, the sun and the moon,” that means it has representations of these things in the world-system, “I offer these to a Buddha-field,” so I’m offering to the Buddhas in the Buddha-field, and “by means of this, may all beings come to enjoy a Buddha-field.” Buddha-field is another name for a pure land. So, that’s [this verse] is used for requesting teachings, and for building up positive force, merit.
What’s significant here is Buddha-fields, why are you talking about Buddha-fields here? So what’s a Buddha-field or a pure land? This is a situation in which everything is totally conducive for doing intensive, intensive practice – you don’t have to do anything else – intensive practice to reach enlightenment. You don’t need to eat, you don’t need to sleep, you don’t need to work, you don’t need to go to the toilet, you don’t need to do anything. You don’t just sit around and relax. The point is you don’t need to do any of these usual samsaric things and you can study, and learn, and practice twenty-four hours a day, all the time – that’s a pure land. It’s a place for hard work actually; it’s not a place to just have a holiday. How wonderful that would be. You don’t have to work, you don’t have to eat, you don’t have to sleep, you don’t have to do any of this junk, samsaric stuff.
And who is there in these pure lands, in these Buddha lands? Arya bodhisattvas. There you need to be an arya bodhisattva, a bodhisattva who’s had nonconceptual cognition of voidness. Those are the disciples in pure Buddha-fields and they study with Sambhogakaya Buddhas, certain subtle forms of Buddhas. These Sambhogakaya Buddhas are always teaching just Mahayana and they teach it forever – you don’t even have to ask them to teach – they teach it forever, until every sentient being is enlightened, so every sentient being is free from samsara.
So, when we offer this to a teacher to teach us, “I offer this to a Buddha-field,” a Buddha land, this is very much in the style of Nalanda University, that when you receive teachings, you need to visualize or imagine that the teacher is a Buddha, and where you’re studying, the classroom is a Buddha-field, a Buddha land, a pure land, and that you and everybody in it is an arya bodhisattva. So it fits in with this style. This can also be in connection with tantra as well, it can be either – it’s not exclusively tantra to visualize a Buddha-field.
You’re offering a representation of this with the mandala plate. So remember, this representation is actually a basis for labeling, a basis for imputation, so you can get a hologram out of it, because it has certain, defining characteristics to it, like the information for a hologram. So, there are several holograms that could be generated from this basis as a representation, [it] depends how the light looks at it, which is analogous. It depends on how the mind imputes it, what angle it’s looking. From this representation we can get an ordinary samsaric world-system, you could impute on it an actual Mount Meru and four continents – like in abhidharma, or like in Kalachakra – or like the solar system according to Western science, you could generate that hologram from this representation.
All of those would be the level of impure appearances, it’s not only the samsaric form, but also the appearance of true existence. [German translator asks for the last sentence to be repeated]: It’s not only an impure, samsaric appearance in terms of the content, but also impure in the sense that it appears to be truly existent. When we talk about impure and pure appearances it has both, in terms of what appears to be the content, as well as the manner in which it appears to exist.
Or that same basis, you can impute on it – generate a hologram of – a pure Buddha land, that would be a path level, or on the resultant level, the environment of a Buddha. So you generate basis, path, and resultant appearances from it. It’s very, very interesting. Then, of course, it symbolizes all this, “Purified with incensed water, elevated with flowers” and so on, so likewise we have to purify Buddha-nature, because from Buddha-nature you can get all these levels of holograms, basis, path, and result.
And we can do this with the inner mandala offering, so we’re working here with the energy-winds of the body – [that] can also be our ordinary stuff, our ordinary body, but it could be like the pure, illusory body of an arya bodhisattva in a pure land, in terms of anuttarayoga tantra, or it could be the actual body of a Buddha. It’s the same thing with blissful awareness – our ordinary bliss, we’re talking here about the natural bliss of the clear-light mind, bliss of being free from all stains – that also can appear in these three levels. It’s the secret mandala.
And, in terms of the mandala of the nature of reality, I mean it could be our ordinary understanding of voidness, but also that clear-light mind has to it an appearance of voidness, it doesn’t understand it, but it has an appearance that looks like voidness appearing to it, so that also can be developed from these levels. So, we have these four types of mandalas, and on a path thing [level] it would be these attainments of arya bodhisattvas in highest tantra – with the illusory body, and clear light, and this unified pair, and all this sort of stuff – it’s referring to that – very significant, we’re offering this – so what are we offering? We are aimed, “by focusing on this,” it says in the verse, “by focusing on this,” “offering this, may everybody achieve enlightenment,” “everybody get to this pure land” – so, we have to bring all of what I said together with bodhichitta, and it all hangs together.
Bodhichitta is a mind which is aimed at a not-yet-happening of our own individual enlightenment. It’s an absence; that future enlightenment doesn’t exist now. What exists now is the not-yet-happening of it, and that is imputed on our mental continuum right now – this moment of it, [since] only one moment of a mental continuum exists at any time: the present moment – the past moment doesn’t exist anymore, the future moment hasn’t happened yet. So, on the basis of Buddha-nature – all the factors that will allow that future, that not-yet-happened enlightenment to happen – on the basis of all those Buddha potentials and that not-yet-happened, future enlightenment, you reach enlightenment – so with bodhichitta you’re aimed at that.
We’re not aimed at Buddha’s enlightenment, we’re not aimed at some general enlightenment, we’re aimed at our own enlightenment, but that doesn’t exist now. What are you focusing on, when you focus with bodhichitta? It’s a very important question. We’re focusing on the not-yet-happening of our future enlightenment and that is on this moment of our mind’s mental continuum and on the Buddha-nature potentials on this moment of our mental continuum, which is like focusing on a mandala, this representation, this plate, and on the basis of this, we impute, like a hologram, our future enlightenment, we’re aiming for that. So the mandala offering is totally connected with bodhichitta.
On the basis of our present moment we can generate a hologram of our ordinary samsaric junk – on a basis level – or we can generate a hologram of the situation in a pure land as an arya bodhisattva, we’re partially purified, or we can generate our future enlightenment. So, we make this mandala offering and we’re offering with bodhichitta basically this representation of Buddha-nature and all the potentials that we have. And, “By offering all of that to Buddhas, achieving a pure land” and everything, “may everybody be able to do that,” on the basis of their Buddha-natures. So this mandala offering has a very, very deep significance.
Now I must confess that I just worked this out on the airplane coming here. Nobody taught me this, but this is basically working it out from all the other teachings that I received. It all fits together and explains this perfectly. It’s not that I’ve heard this explanation like that. So the mandala offering is really, I think, an offering of bodhichitta, that’s why it brings up so much positive force. So that’s what I wanted to explain. Since it’s very fresh in my mind, so I’m very excited about it.
So, we think, whatever understanding we’ve gained – again, this is the same thing, on the basis of that understanding, what hologram are we going to make, what are we going to impute? We’re going to impute, “Oh,” confusion, samsaric confusion, “I didn’t understand anything,” we could raise that hologram out of it, [but] that’s not very helpful. Or we can impute on it – the light of the mind makes another hologram, on the basis of that – may it build up a lot of positive force, may it go deeper and deeper and deeper, and act as a cause – and it’s only the beginning, of course it’s confused now, but – may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of everyone – become a basis for a hologram of a Buddha just then.
All this is the Sakya approach of inseparable samsara and nirvana. On this basis you can get either a samsaric hologram or a nirvanic hologram. The same basis, so it’s your choice – everybody’s choice, so, may this act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all. You would offer that with a mandala, normally, offer that with a mandala, same thing, and “on that basis, achieve a pure land and actually the land of a Buddha, and may everybody achieve like that.” That’s the verse. Very profound.
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