Torch of True Meaning: Session One｜Offering the Mandala: Extracting the Essence
Monlam Pavillion, Bodhgaya,
12 February, 2016
To open the Mandala offering practice, the Karmapa emphasized the essential meaning of the word 'mandala'. We say ‘mandala’ but it is a Sanskrit word not Tibetan, he explained. The word means ‘centre and edges’ or ‘centre and surroundings’, or ‘the primary and the edges’.
The centre is the essence. The meaning of mandala is that we are extracting the essence. In the secret mantra it's said the essence is the natural fundamental wisdom. That's what we need to extract. Beginners need to accomplish it gradually through the path.
Mandala is a method for us to extract the essence, the ultimate unified fundamental wisdom. We repeatedly make offerings to the gurus. We have to keep this aim in mind while we do the practice. By so doing, the obscurations become thinner and thinner and our qualities increase.
What is the essence we need to extract? What is our aim? We need to identify and understand this. We are trying to acquire the state of buddhahood. Eventually we will be able to achieve our aim.
An elevated tier of Buddha statues in varying mudras face each other on either side of the stage overlooking the rows of lamas and rinpoches in perfect formation. The picture conjures an image of an assembly of bodhisattvas listening to the Buddhadharma, while the impression from above shows the bodhisattvas close to the right and left sides of a great buddha throne and a vast assembly of shravakas beneath them filling all of space. Giant thangkas of the mahamudra lineage of Karmapas and heart sons line the main aisle.
''Welcome to all the lamas, monks and nuns, and members of the public who have come from all directions''. the Karmapa says, looking out at the great gathering.
A Teacher must not be seeking anything for this life but be thinking of future lives, and have the motivation of benefiting others. For the listeners, you should not let your journey go to waste, but listen, not with ordinary motivation, but with a better and kinder motivation.
I don’t have the qualities of abandonment and realization or being learned and wise but when I teach the dharma my motivation is to try to teach something that can be put into practice. Teaching something profound doesn't mean we can put it into practice in our daily lives. My hope is that the listeners will be able to make some changes and put some effort into it.
Behind the Karmapa's elaborately carved gold and black throne, with 6 steps up to its seat, stands a simple wood carved glass encased cabinet holding texts with a buddha in the central niche. Behind the cabinet is a 4-foot gold mandala set mounted on a pedestal decorated with the 8 auspicious symbols embossed onto an indigo background. The great accumulation mandala has silver auspicious symbols embossed on its massive rings and is dotted with turquoise, coral and precious jewels. The topmost peak of the mandala, known as Mount Meru, rises just below the Karmapa's throne.
What do we actually offer when we offer the centre and edges? The centre refers to 4 continents and Mount Meru? The edges refer to all the sensory pleasures and everything good, the emanated offerings that we fill the 4 continents and Mount Meru with. This definition makes a distinction between the primary and emanated offerings that we fill the centre with.
The Karmapa reads the Instructions for mandala offerings from the text: The mandala plate can be small if it is made of good material. A mandala of clay or wood should be large. The most important thing is the visualisation. You will need 2 mandala plates. Use the larger one of better material for accomplishment. For the offering, piles of precious substances are best. The least is grains moistened with saffron water.
What the text describes is the materials and size of the plate and the substances we should offer, he says. We need to know what materials mandalas are made of, the shape, the colour, the size of the mandala. We need to know these 4 things about the physical mandala.
He leaves his throne and symbolically places rice on each tier of the accumulation gold mandala set. Resuming his seat, he arranges a maroon apron in his lap and takes a mandala plate in his left hand. Using grains of barley he begins to offer the seven branch mandala offering on behalf of the entire assembly, reciting the 4 line heart of the mandala mantra. Led by the Umdze, everyone joins in the repetitions.
In the continuous chanting for half an hour the essence of mandala becomes palpable.
SA SHI PÖ CHU JUG SHING MÉ TOG TRAM
This foundation of earth, strewn with flowers and purified with scented water,
RI RAB LING SHI NYI DÉ GYEN PA DI
Adorned by Mt. Meru, the four continents, the sun and moon,
SANGYÉ SHING DU MIG TÉ PHUL WA YI
I offer it visualised as a Buddha realm;
DRO KUN NAM DAG SHING LA CHÖD PAR SHOG
May all beings enjoy this perfectly pure realm!
As 10,000 people each recite 250 repetitions, the chant creates a wave of merit, an accumulation that rapidly becomes as deep and vast as the ocean. Hidden by his throne, the Karmapa offers the mandala on behalf of the assembly while waves of mandala repetitions continue to roll.