Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Mandala in the Architecture of Sacred Space

When I refer to architecture, I am typically referring to the built environment that surrounds us. Yet in the lexicon of religious architecture, the notion of spaces and structures we inhabit take on another definition and quite literally, other dimensions. The mandala is a rich example of this.

Often referred to as a 'cosmic diagram,' mandala is a Sanskrit term meaning 'circle.' In ritual practice, the mandala signifies the abode of a deity and is also an external representation of the mind's layout. The mandala is a central concept in Buddhist architecture, representative of sacred space as well as often fundamental in the building and planning process for temples, monasteries. The Tibetan Buddhist architectural style is heavily influenced, in fact dependent, on the form of the mandala along with the homage paid to natural landscape features when layout is considered and planned. As an instrument of meditation, it is one of the manifold practices designed for the spiritual journey.

The journey of Tibetan Buddhists monks around the world has led to the creation of sand mandalas in many places, followed by the reverential nod to impermanence in then sweeping the mandala up.

The following photo shows Tibetan monks Lobsang Paljor and Tenzin Tashi creating a mandala representative of Avalokiteshvara, deity and embodiment of compassion, at the library of Missouri University on the Mystical Arts of Tibet Tour.

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