Explanation of the Mandala Offering
All experienced yogis find the mandala offering a very important practice for gaining merit. We need this so that we can easily gain the experience of whatever aspect of the path we meditate on.
Once, Atisha’s chief disciple, Dromton Rinpoche, went to visit one of his own main disciples, Gonba Rinchen. When he arrived, Dromton found that the mandala objects were covered by dust in the corner of the meditation room. This made him unhappy and he scolded Gonba Rinchen, saying, `Why aren’t you practising mandala offering?’ Gonba Rinchen answered respectfully, `Today I forgot to offer the mandala because I was deeply involved in my meditation.’ Dromton Rinpoche started laughing and said, `Are you a better meditator than Atisha? Although he has reached very high realizations, he still never forgets the practice of offering the mandala every day!’
The life-story of Lama Tsong Khapa also shows us the importance of this practice. After he had received many teachings on sutra and tantra from various gurus, Tsong Khapa asked the great Manjushri many important questions through one of his gurus, Lama Omapa. He questioned him on profound subjects in the practice of tantra, such as subtle emptiness and the illusory body. Manjushri advised Tsong Khapa to leave scholarly activities and to do solitary practice for the purpose of purification and increasing merit.
As Manjushri advised, the great Tsong Khapa went to a solitary place in South Tibet called Oka. There, for many years, he single-pointedly dedicated his life to purification and the practice of offering the mandala. As a result, without much effort, Tsong Khapa later gained many higher realizations on both the sutra and highest tantra paths.
Pabongka Rinpoche often said:
As Lord Buddha clearly prophesied, the great Tsong Khapa had already attained enlightenment many aeons ago. He had no need to purify negative actions. However, to set us a good example, he showed that even after he had reached the highest realizations, he still practised the prerequisites of purification and accumulation of merit.
There are three kinds of mandala offering: external, internal and secret. The last two are related to the practice of tantric meditation. The mandala offering that we practise here, the external one, is based on sutra practice.
This mandala offering is the symbolic offering of the prosperity of the whole universe. Therefore, every possible offering we can make is contained in it. For this reason, it is considered a very effective method of accumulating merit. The visualization of the universe, which is generated in this mandala offering, is based on the description of the universe given in traditional Buddhist cosmology.
According to this world system, the centre of the universe is Mount Meru, surrounded by seven golden mountain chains. Mount Meru has eight levels of ground, four of which are below the ocean and four above it. On the highest level is the palace of Indra, king of the gods in the desire realm. On the great ocean around Mount Meru are four continents and eight sub-continents. The great ocean rests on a golden ground and is surrounded by an iron fence. The sun and moon rotate in space around Mount Meru above the continents.
How to Offer a Mandala
Traditionally, when we perform this mandala offering, we use a mandala base, three or four rings placed on top of each other, a top, grain and, if we have any, semi-precious stones to pile up on the mandala base. All these symbolize our offering the universe as described in the Mandala Offering Prayer. The important thing in this practice is to visualize as clearly as possible the whole structure of the universe and the precious offerings as they are described.
The base symbolizes the golden ground of the world system; the first ring is the iron fence and the continents; the top two or three rings represent the levels of Mount Meru above the ocean; the mandala top symbolizes the precious things in the whole universe, as well as our own inner virtues, which we offer. Having built the mandala offering on the base, we hold it at the level of our heart. Our left and right hands symbolize Brahma and Indra, who are considered to be the most powerful symbolic kings of the universe.
To build the mandala (see illustration on page 67), first take some grain in your left hand and hold the mandala base. Take some grain with your right hand and put it on the base. Then wipe it with your right forearm in a clockwise direction, tipping the grain away from you. Repeat this three times, visualizing that you are purifying your incorrect motivation. Then put more grain on the base and wipe it in an anti-clockwise direction three times, tipping the grain towards yourself. At the same time visualize that you are receiving great blessings from the merit field to open your mind so that you can offer the mandala from your heart.
Then spread some grain over the base. This symbolizes covering the golden ground with precious jewels. While doing this, recite the mantra om vajra bhurni ah hung meaning `indestructible ground.’ This is the mantra for blessing the ground of the universe.
Then place the first ring on the base. Take more grain with the right hand and sprinkle it around the inside of the ring, reciting the mantra om vajra rekhe ah hung. The ring and the sprinkling of grain symbolize blessing the iron fence that encircles the universe. Next, pile some grain in the middle of the base (1). This symbolizes Mount Meru and the seven golden mountain chains around it.
Then put some grain in the east of the base (2). There are two systems of where the east is held: either on our side of the base or on the side of the merit field, whichever we choose. If we perform the mandala offering with the aim of receiving blessing power from the merit field, then the east is held on our side. And if we perform it with the purpose of accumulating merit, then the east is held on the side of the merit field. Having put grain in the east, we then put some in the south (3), west (4) and north (5). These four points symbolize the four major continents around Mount Meru. Now put some grain at each side of the eastern continent (6, 7), then likewise to each side of the other continents to symbolize the eight sub-continents or islands (8 – 13).
The next step is to build the visualization of the four unique precious things that are contained on the four continents. They are: in the east the precious mountain (14), in the south the precious tree (15), in the west the precious cow (16) and in the north the naturally growing precious crops (17). To symbolize these four we put grain in each of these places.
After this we build the visualization of the eight precious objects belonging to a wheel-turning king who rules the four continents. Place the second ring on the top of the first ring that is already filled with grain. Beginning in the east (18), put some grain in the eight directions inside the second ring (18-25). These symbolize the eight precious things: the seven auspicious royal objects plus the great treasure vase, as described in the prayer. They are visualized in the space above the continents and islands around Mount Meru.
If we are using three rings we continue on the second ring
here, but if we are using four rings we put the third ring on here and then put grain in the eight directions again (26-33). These symbolize the eight goddesses carrying eight different types of offerings. These offerings are visualized on the four levels of Mount Meru above the sea.
Now place the last ring on the grain and inside it put some grain towards your left and right hand (34, 35), symbolizing the sun and moon. Then put some grain away from you and towards you (36, 37), symbolizing the protection umbrella and victory banner. The victory banner symbolizes victory over inner evil. As we generally make mandala offerings mainly for the purpose of receiving blessing power from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we normally place the banner of victory towards us. If, however, we feel there is some obstacle to our meditation practice, it is suggested that we put the protection umbrella towards us – this symbolizes receiving protection from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Finally place the mandala top in the middle (38). This symbolizes the offerings of Samantabhadra. We visualize on the top of Mount Meru an enormous precious tree with many branches spreading throughout space. On each branch is the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, creating from his concentration power innumerable priceless offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that we visualize in the merit field.
We then transform the entire universe that we have visualized into a pure universe. Holding the mandala at our heart, we offer it to the merit field.
Requesting the Merit Field to Bestow the Power of Their Blessings
Still holding the mandala at our heart, we make requests to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to bless our mind to be able to achieve the realization of the path we are meditating on, as follows:
O Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, please bestow your boundless compassion, stainless wisdom and limitless power upon me, so that I may quickly gain realization of the path I am meditating on, in order to attain enlightenment for the sake of all my mother sentient beings.
Having made our request, we tip the grain towards us thinking that we are receiving their blessings. Visualize that from their hearts emanate brilliant white light and nectar, which enter through our crown chakra, completely filling our body and mind and purifying all obstacles formed by our negative karmas and delusions that hinder us from gaining realizations.
Then all other Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, deities, Arhats, dakas, dakinis, Dharma protectors gradually dissolve into Buddha Shakyamuni, who is inseparable from your own guru. Finally, Buddha Shakyamuni comes above your head. In his heart, visualize a moon disc surrounded by the syllables of his mantra: om muni muni mahamuniye svaha. Recite this one hundred times. Outside this mantra is the mantra of Tsong Khapa, which represents the mantra of your own guru: om ah guru vajradhara sumati kiti siddhi hung hung. Recite this one hundred times, too.
At this point we do the actual meditation on whatever aspect of the path we are contemplating. When the meditation is over, we dissolve the merit field as follows: visualize your heart in the form of an open lotus; then Guru Shakyamuni descends through your crown chakra into your body and sits inside the lotus. Think that he becomes inseparable from your mind.
To sum up: this tradition of practising the gradual path to enlightenment has two stages: the preparation stage, which consists of the six preliminary practices, and the actual meditation. This system should be applied to all practices of meditation on the path, from meditation on the precious human rebirth to meditation on emptiness.
Taken from page 253-256
Om vajra bhumi ah hung
wang chen ser gyi sa zhi
Om vajra rekhe ah hung
chi chag ri kor yug gyi kor wa u su
ri gyal po ri rab (1)
shar lu pag po (2)
lho dzam bu ling(3)
nub ba lang chi (4)
jang dra mi nyan (5)
lu (6) dang lu pag (7) nga yab (8) dang nga yab zhan (9)
yo dan (10) dang lam chog dro (11)
dra mi nyan (12)
dang dra mi nyan gyi da (13)
rinpoche ri wo (14)
pag sam gyi shing (15)
do jo ba (16)
ma mo pa yi lo tog (17)
Kor lo rin po che (18)
norbu rin po che (19)
tzun mo rin po che (20)
lon po rin po che (21)
lang po rin po che (22)
ta chog rin po che (23)
mag po rin po che (24)
ter chen po yi bum pa (25)
Geg ma (26) treng wa ma (27)
lu ma (28) gar ma (29) me tog ma (30) dug po ma (31)
nang sal ma (32) dri chab ma (33)
Nyi ma (34) da wa (35) rin po che dug (36)
chog la nam par gya wa gyal tsan (37)
u su lha dang mi pal jor pun sum tsog pa (38)
Ma tsang wa me pa tzang zhing yid du wong wa di dag drin chen tza wa dang gyu par cha pd pal dan lama dam pa nam dang kye per du yang lama sha kya thub pa
lha tsog kor dang cha pa nam la zhing gam ul war gyio
Tug je dro way don du zhe su sol zhe nay dag sog dro wa mar gyur nam kay ta dang nyam pay sem chen tam chay la tug tsay wa chen pi go nay jin gyi lab tu sol.
Om vajra bhumi ah hung, greatly powerful golden ground.
Om vajra rekhe ah hung, at the outermost limit a circular iron mountain chain surrounds Mount Meru, king of mountains (1).
In the east is the continent Lupagpo (2)
In the south the continent Dzambuling (3)
In the west the continent Balangcho (4)
In the north the continent Draminyan (5)
At the two sides of the eastern continent are two subcontinents Lu (6)
and Lupag (7) At the two sides of the southern continent are two subcontinents Ngayab (8) and Ngayabzhan (9)
At the two sides of the western continent are two subcontinents Yoden (10) and Lamchogdro (11) At the sides of the northern continent are two sub-continents Draminyan (12) and Draminyangyida (13).
Precious mountain (14), wish-granting tree (15), wishfulfilling cow (16) and uncultivated crops (17).
Precious wheel (18), precious jewel (19), precious queen (20),
Precious minister (21), precious elephant (22), precious horse (a3),
Precious general (24) and great treasure vase (25).
The goddess of grace (26), goddess of garlands (27), goddess of song (a8), goddess of dance (29), goddess of flowers (30), goddess of incense (31), goddess of light (32) and goddess of perfume (33).Sun (34), moon (35), precious umbrella (36) and banner of victory in every direction (37), And in the centre, all the prosperity and possessions of gods and humans (38).
This magnificent and glorious collection, encompassing all prosperity and goodness, I offer to you, my most kind root Guru, To all other holy lineage gurus, In particular to you, Buddha Shakyamuni, Together with the entire assembly of the merit field.
Please accept this offering for the welfare of all sentient beings,
And, having accepted it, with your great kindness, Please bestow your blessings and inspiration on me And all mother beings throughout space.
Sa zhi pu kyi jug shing me tog tram
ri rab ling shi nyi da gyan pa di
sang gya shing du mig te ul war gyi
dro kun nam dag zhing la cho par shog
Idam guru ratna mandalakam niryatayami
By virtue of offering to you, assembly of Buddhas
Visualized before me, this mandala built on a base, Resplendent with flowers, sprinkled with perfumed water, Adorned with Mount Meru and the four continents, As well as the sun and moon. May all sentient beings share in its good effects.
I send forth this jewelled mandala to you, precious Gurus.
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Awakening the Mind
This teaching on the mandala offering comes from the book Awakening the Mind by Geshe Namgyal Wangchen (Wisdom Publications, 1995). It may not be reproduced without permission in writing from the publisher.