According to Buddhist history, the purpose, meanings, and techniques involved in the spiritual art of sand mandala painting were taught by Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha in the sixth century B.C. in India. Over the centuries the Kalachakra teachings have been transmitted in an unbroken lineage from teacher to student. In the 11th century the Kalachakra went from India to Tibet and during the 18th century the VII Dalai Lama introduced it to the Namgyal Monastery. This continuous lineage extends to the XIV Dalai Lama of our own time.
Each mandala is a sacred mansion, the home of particular meditational deity, who represent and embodies enlightened qualities ranging from compassion to heightened consciousness and bliss. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, mandalas are created for rituals of initiation in which a highly qualified teacher grants permission to advanced disciples to engage in the tantric meditation practices. Both the deity, which resides at the centre of the mandala, and the mandala itself are recognised as pure expressions of the Buddha's fully enlightened mind. Symbolically the deity confers the initiations and the mandala is where the initiations takes place. Through the initiations ceremony the seed of enlightenment in each person's mind is nourished by the dynamic process of visualising and contemplating a mandala.
In essence the ceremony involves the transportation of disturbing emotions into beneficial intuition and wisdom. Normally such an initiation is given at the request of an individual or group of people. The altruistic motivation of the artist and sponsor is essential to the creation of mandala.
Everything in this mandala is the symbolic representation of some aspect of the Kalachakra deity and the deity's universe. There are 722 deities in the mandala which symbolise various manifestations of aspects of consciousness and reality, all part of the ultimate wisdom of the Kalachakra deity. Understanding and interpreting all of the symbols included in the mandala would be like reading the Kalachakra texts, which contains a vast range of teachings from cosmology to epistemology to psychology.
The Kalachakra Tantra is interpreted at three levels referred to as external, internal and alternative. The external concerns the laws of time and space of this physical world and accordingly deals with astronomy, astrology and mathematics. The internal concerns the elements and structure of the human body, including its energy system. The alternative is the doctrine, path and fruit of the actual meditational deity and its circular mandala abode.
The Kalachakra deity resides in the centre of the mandala. His palace consists of our mandala, one within another: the mandala of body, the mandala of speech, that of mind, and the very centre, wisdom and great bliss.
The palace is divided into four quadrants each with walls, gates, and a centre. The colours are specific representations of the elements and mental types. Black, in the east, is associated with the element of winds. The south is red, its elements is fire. The west is yellow, associated with the element of earth, and the north is white, represent water.
The square palace of the 722 deities is seated upon the first concentric circles, the first of which of which represents the earth. The other circles, represent water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness extend beyond the wall of the palace. The outer circles, a representation of the cosmos, is a source of Tibetan astrology. The ten wrathful deities who reside in one of the outer, concentric circles of the mandala serve as its protectors.
The Kalachakra sand mandala is dedicated to peace and physical balance, both for individual and for the world, thanks to the deities carefully among minute human, animal and floral forms, abstract pictographs, and the Sanskrit syllables that comprises the mandala's design.
Although depicted here on a flat surface, the mandala is actually three-dimensional, being a five-storeyed "divine mansion", at the centre of which stands the Kalachakra deity the manifest state of Enlightenment.
A person who simply sees this mandala many feel peace on many levels. According to the Dalai Lama, the Kalachakra deities create a favourable atmosphere, reducing tension and violence in the world. "It is a way of planting a seed, and the seed will have karmic effect. One doesn't need to be present at the Kalachakra ceremony in order to receive its benefits," he explains.
Having constructed the the-pu or mandala base, the artists measure out and draw the architectural lines using a straight-edge ruler, compass and white ink pen. The mandala is a formal geometric pattern of a ground plan of a sacred mansions. It includes a foundation, four entrances, wall and other architectural elements. The colour sand is applied to the mandala through the end of a metal funnel, which is rasped with another funnel in order to release a fine stream of sand.
The artists begin at the centre of the mandala and work outward. As the mandala is made in the spirit of impermanence and non-attachement, it will eventually be ritualistically dismantled and the blessed sand carried to the river, where it will be offered for the benefit of the marine life and the environment..