Offering a Maṇḍala

Offering maṇḍala (or mendel) is part of the practice of offering. In this practice, one makes the offering of the entire universe or world, as one perceives it. The fundamental concept underpinning the maṇḍala offering is giving all good things which exists in the entire universe to one’s guru, the Buddha or the Bodhisattvas.

Maṇḍala offering is a very extensive but comprehensive method of offering because when one offers the whole universe or the world, everything is included in it. We include both the external world - the container or noe – with all the contents or chue. Thus, maṇḍala offering is all inclusive.

Maṇḍala Instructions on Maṇḍala offering rituals in the context of specific rites Bhutan Cultural Library Bhutan
Modes of maṇḍala offering

The traditional methods we have for offering maṇḍala are based on an Indo-Tibetan Buddhist cosmology, which originates in the Vedic religion. The Buddha didn’t introduce a new world system or cosmology but the Buddha adopted the cosmology that was accepted in his time.

In that cosmological theory or world system, there is Mount Meru (ri yi gyalpo ri rab) in the middle, the four continents (ling zhi) on the four sides and the eight subcontinents (ling tren gye) on the sides of these continents. These are based on the golden ground and the sun and moon moves around Mount Meru.

In addition to this cosmic structure, one offers all good things contained in it such as the wish fulfilling tree (pak sam gi shing), the cow that grants all wishes (dejoi ba), the un-ploughed crop (ma muepai lotok), the seven precious jewels (rinchen na duen), the treasure vase (terchen poi bum pa), the eight offering goddesses (chopi lhamo gye), precious parasol (rinpochei dug), victory banner (gyal tshen) and the riches of celestial and human realms. This offering of maṇḍala based on the liturgy composed by a Sakya Lama is known as maṇḍala offering with 37 points.

So, the various forms of our maṇḍala offerings are based on this ancient Indian Buddhist cosmology. If one is not comfortable with this Indian cosmology, Buddhist teachers suggests that one can also visualize the modern scientific cosmology such as the solar system, Milky Way or other concepts of world systems and offer them with the entire beautiful things in them.

How does one make the offering?

To indicate that we are offering the world system, we make a hand gesture, where two ring fingers represent Mount Meru, the forefingers and middle fingers are locked together to indicate two islands, the thumbs and little fingers locked to indicate two other continents. One’s palm is normally filled with grains or flowers to indicate the good things in the universe. This is just a symbolic gesture. One must visualize the actual universe being offered. This is the general offering of maṇḍala.

In other cases, one can offer one’s body as maṇḍala, including all the organs and faculties, the vital energy and energy channels and experience of bliss and peace.

In more advanced form of maṇḍala offering, one can visualise one’s mind as the natural maṇḍala. The nature of the mind of the great expanse which is filled by all the latent qualities of the mind. These qualities are the same as the great qualities of the Buddha but they remain hidden in the nature of our mind.

When a devotee offers maṇḍala, he or she don’t just use his or her hands but uses a small well decorated plate, which symbolizes the golden ground, and rings with intricate embellishments, which indicate different layers of offerings. The practitioner puts grains on them while chanting the verses for maṇḍala offering. The plate is initially purified by chanting the mantra of purification.

By offering maṇḍala one accumulates a great deal of merit, which in turn will lead one to prosperity, wealth and advancement in spiritual practice to attain Buddhahood. However, one should offer maṇḍala with no expectation for reward or return. One must think of giving with no leftovers as one offers the whole universe. The main purpose of maṇḍala offering is to make one’s mind very conducive and fertile for actual spiritual instructions. Offering maṇḍala helps one become more generous with more will power to give. It helps one minimize the sense of stinginess, self-clinging and attachment. That is why maṇḍala offering is an important part of ngondro practice.

Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, founder of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called Why We What We Wo.

 

 

 

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In this practice, one makes the offering of the entire universe or world, as one perceives it. The fundamental concept underpinning the maṇḍalaoffering is giving all good things which exists in the entire universe to one’s guru, the Buddha or the Bodhisattvas.

This piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called "Why we do what we do".

Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users (default)
Author Karma Phuntsho
Year published 2015
Original year published 2014
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