Buddhism or the representations of deities whom they

Buddhism has had a tremendous impact on Japan and Tibet, its
people, its religious affiliations and most importantly, its art. The Sanskrit
word mandala directly translates to any circle or discoid object and it was not
until the arrival of Tibetan Buddhism that it acquired a specific meaning.

Indeed the mandala consisted of circle and discoid objects, but it also
comprised of much more deeper symbols and meanings to it.

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There are three mains schools of Buddhism and the one that
Japan and Tibet have been most influenced by is the esoteric (vajrayana or
Tantric) school. The mandala is the main art form for this school and a very
general definition of the mandala can be “interpreted broadly as
representations of sanctified realms where identification between the human and
the sacred occurs.” (Grotenhuis, 1) The
word Tantra in Sanskrit is defined as a framework or system and it “connotes
the assembling of many different beliefs from diverse religious sects, social
classes, and geographic regions, combing them into carefully organized
systems.” (Grotenhuis, 33) What differentiates esoterism from other Buddhist
teachings is that although the ultimate goal of the devotees is to reach
nirvana or enlightenment, it focuses more on the teachings that are in
literature that tells of how extensive practice and time is needed for the
achievement.

Although
the same school of Buddhism has influenced both Japan and Tibet, the art that was
being made was quite different in both countries. Tibetan mandalas relied heavily on visualization
of the life of the Buddha or the representations of deities whom they worship.

Those who follow, “engage in special practices in order to realize the pure in
what was previously viewed as impure, realizing Buddha’s where before they only
of ordinary beings.” (Brauen, 26) A mandala is a type of “art” from a
visualization perspective; however, it is “a visualization of the nature cosmic
reality, as such sometimes called a cosmic diagram, and a means to spiritual
transformation.” (Lieberman, 9) Mandalas
are universally similar in the sense that at the center, there is a depiction
of the spiritual deity and other areas of the mandalas support the center
identity. Although complex, the surrounding aspects all lead the eye back to
its central point. This is a controlled rule for all mandalas to follow, but
also allows for the freedom of depicting different stories or narratives of
numerous deities and gods.

The
traditions and teachings originally spread to China gradually making its way to
Japan. The founder of the Shingon School of Buddhism, Kukai discovered the mandala
while he was studying in China with a monk Huiguo of the Zhenyan School. A few
years later Saicho, created the Tendai School who also trained in China and
brought the teachings back to Japan. They are both considered to be the mergers
of the Shinto-Buddhist beliefs and fueled the growth of indigenous art and
esoteric traditions in Japan.

The
most famous mandala in Japan is the Ryokai Mandala. Ryokai directly translates
to “two realms” and incorporates the Taizokai Mandala (Womb World) and the
Kongokai Mandala (Diamond World). “Womb” is used to in the name of this mandala
because esoteric Buddhism teaches that to attain reality, it can be reached
through internal, physical and sensory experiences rather than external
experiences. These two are seen as a set and the pair symbolizes the essential
devotion to the esoteric religious practice. The Womb world mandala represents
wisdom, while the Womb represents ultimate principle.  Together, they create a world specifically
for the Cosmic Buddha, also known as Dainichi Nyorai where the Taizokai represents
the transcendental Buddha himself and the Kongokai represents the world itself.

The Dainichi Nyorai is the most popular and well-known Buddhist figure in Japan
and the he was worshipped as the central Buddha of the universe.

 

 

Taizokai
Mandala and 3D representation of Mandala

The
Taizokai Mandala Genzu version is also distinct because various deity families
are arranged into groups of twelve sections. Unlike the Kongokai Mandala, this
mandala follows the traditional mandala style of starting at a center and panning
out. In addition, this mandala is made for being represented as a
three-dimensional object and not a painting, where the different sections are
more clearly visible. It has twelve halls and there is a center layer where the
remaining eleven sections surround. Being on the wall, it is difficult to
really grasp the differences between the sections, but in addition to the four
layers, there are three different families of Buddha, lotus, and diamond, which
are representative of Esoteric Buddhism. The Buddha section represents his
being and his meditation, the lotus section portrays his passion, and finally
the diamond sect represents his knowledge and wisdom. Each section consists of
numerous halls that further illustrate the importance of the Buddha.

To
being, the central hall is dedicated to the Dainichi where he is sitting on an
eight-petal lotus. Although in the image, it appears they are all sitting on
the equal plane, as can be seen in the three-dimensional rendition, Dainichi is
actually in the middle and is bigger where the other deities surround him. The
lotus represents compassion and on each petal sits a deity and in the middle
sits Dainichi who symbolizes principles and virtues. With these combined, this
section signifies the unity of compassion and virtues, which is the main significance
of many mandalas and specifically the mandala of the Two Worlds. Next, is the
Hall of Universal Knowledge and this is the section right above the Central
Hall (on the wall image). There is a represents fire, which is said to burn
away any obstacle – desire, anger, and ignorance that hinders the birth of the Buddha’s.

Being that this mandala is called the “Womb” Mandala, many of the symbols that
can be seen refer to the birth and growth of the Buddha. Specifically, this
section symbolizes “Dainichi’s transcendent knowledge as the generative source
of Buddhahood” (Grotenhuis, 62) The Hall of Kannon is located on the left side
of the Central Hall and this section, as well as the section on the right
called the Hall of Kongoshu include many Bodhisattvas who represent the different
aspects of the Buddha. The Hall of Kannon is part of the lotus family and
represents the “process of purification in which the mind is unclouded to
reveal its inherent purity.” (Grotenhuis, 62) On the other hand, the Hall of
Kongoshu is part of the Diamond section and represents “indestructible
knowledge or wisdom.” (Grotenhuis, 63) Under the center hall, is the Hal of
Mantra Holders and they are acknowledged as the personification of Dainichi’s
wisdom. Along with Dainichi, another important Buddha that is portrayed in this
mandala is Sakyamuni. This deity has a section dedicated to him and he “represents
the enlightenment that all beings can experience.” (Grotenhuis, 64) Beside this
hall is the Hall of Monju and the deity of Monju is the representation of the
wisdom of the great Buddha. This hall teaches the devotee that as long as one
can/begins to understand the crucial unity that is needed for diversity in the
world. Being the representation of wisdom, this hall is dedicated to guiding
the devotee in acceptance and realizing unity is possible. Next to the Hall of
Kongoshu is the Hall of Jokaisho and this section consists of the Bodhisattva
Jokaisho who represents the knowledge and “acts to remove all hindrances to
attainment of Buddhahood.” (Grotenhuis, 66) The Hall of Jizo and the Hall of
Kokuzo are dedicated to the mandalas name, the idea of the womb. Hall of Jizo
portrays the nurture necessary for enlightenment and the Hall of Kokuzo
represents the hindering that occurs but teaches how one must surpass these
obstacles. An extension of the Hal of Kokuzo is the Hall of Soshitsuji and this
hall further emphasizes the need for virtues and appreciation of obstacles to
obtain the absolute accomplishment of enlightenment. The last hall is the third
family that was mentioned earlier of the Diamond section. This section
surrounds the whole mandala in the outer most layer. It is the “assembly of all
beings who inhabit the three worlds, of desire, form and formlessness” and consists
of the deities and bodhisattvas who guard these teachings of Esoteric Buddhism.

 

Kongokai
Mandala

The
Kongokai Mandala is spectacular because it is divided up into nine sections. This
version is called the Kue version, which directly translates to the nine-panel
mandala. It is rare because it steers away from the usual mandala style of the
central piece and the unwinding of it. Visually, it is very intriguing because
although the mandala itself does not follow the usual style, once seen up close,
it is apparent that there are mini mandalas in each section. These mini
mandalas have specific symbols and meanings to them that when seen as a group,
transcends the meaning of the image to the audience. This mandala is presumably
supposed to be read from the center, and then move down and then to the left
and then clockwise around the sections. However, since there are no writings or
explanations as to how to read this mandala, observers today do not know
exactly how to comprehend this piece. In the center section, sits the Nyorai-bu
family or the Perfected-Body Assembly where the Dainichi Nyorai is placed in
the center of the mini mandala with four other Buddha’s that represent each
direction on the compass. This is to show the full coverage of the knowledge
and spirituality of the great Buddha. In the mini mandalas, the five Buddha’s
in total denotes the five dimensions of wisdom that one needs to achieve
ultimate reality. The surrounding eight mandalas are considered to be
variations of the Perfected-Body assembly and “offer variations on this basic
message concerning enlightenment.” (Grotenhuis, 40)  In addition to the Perfected-Body Assembly,
there are the eight other sections that each holds a significant assembly and
meaning. The first assembly, the Sammaya assembly portrays the virtues or
aspects of the Dainichi however, unlike the perfected-body assemble, the lotus
plant replaces the four deities of the elements and thus only seventy-three
figures are portrayed in this assembly. Next, the Subtle Assembly signifies the
long lasting wisdom of Dainichi that is considered to be “subtle”. Although
there are seventy-three figures shown, in this assembly the deities are shown
in anthropomorphic form. The Offerings Assembly details the offerings that the
Bodhisattvas are making to the five Buddha’s, Four-Seals Assembly summarizes
what has happened in the previous four mandalas up to this point. It portrays
the spiritual journey and it allows for the observer to understand easily the
journey of understanding the mandala. The fifth assemble, the One-Seal
Assembly, is the most unique because it is located in the top center of the
grid and only shows one anthropomorphic image of the Dainichi. This image
allows for the observers to grasp the meaning of the mandala who could not
understand from the Four-Seals Assembly. Similar to the previous mandala, the
Rishu Assembly is different from other mandalas because it portrays the main
deity, Kongosatta who is surrounded cardinally by four diamond Bodhisattvas who
symbolize the four aspects of knowledge and in the ordinal direction, by four
more bodhisattvas who represent the perfections of the Dainichi.  In the Gosanze Assembly, Dainichi’s mad
aspect is portrayed and the name Gosanze means “conqueror of the three worlds”.

It depicts how this aspect assumes to destroy the obstacles that hinder
enlightenment. Next to this mandala is the Gosanze-Sammaya Assembly, and as
seen from the name it is the mandala that precedes the first one but this one
there is evidence of the state of Sammaya, where virtues and morals are shown
which are symbols of the Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas.

These
nine mini mandalas make up the larger Kongokai mandala. As noted earlier, this
is a special type of mandala where each dimension to it has a specific meaning
and as a whole it can read as something final and definite. It is said that
devotees were told to stare at the image and meditate towards each of the
Buddha renditions. They were to see and try to understand the symbolic meaning
that was being depicted and reflect on the relationships that the Buddha has
with other deities. Once the devotee was done with the Taizokai mandala, he was
to move onto the Kongokai mandala and it is said that after meditating through
both visually and symbolically, he would have been unified with the Cosmic
Buddha. This is another reason as to why these two mandalas are a paired and
typically are seen hanging facing each other’s. “For practitioners, mandalas are
embodiments of the sacred, instruments of power that help them realize their
essential Buddha natures, each to become, as Kûkai said, a Buddha in this very
body.” (Grotenhuis, 49)

 

 

 

Yamantaka Mandala

In
Tibet, the mandalas are used in Tantric meditation and rituals and it is taught
that by creating one, it is believed to benefit everyone. The most different
aspect of mandalas in Tibet from the Japanese mandalas is that traditionally,
the mandalas are created using sand made from crushed limestone. This is why
there are ritualistic behaviors behind the creation to mandalas in Tibet that
are not seen in Japan. In Japan, the already-made mandalas are worshipped and
sacred; whereas, in Tibet, the ritual itself of the creation process is sacred
as well up to the point where they essentially destroy the mandala and give the
sand back to nature. The most famous mandala is the Yamantaka Mandala. This
mandala is unlike the Japanese ones mentioned earlier because there is a square
form inside the circular formation. Yamantaka is a deity for conqueror and
death who is often represented by a blue vajra. A definitive difference with
this mandala and the ones describe above is that this one follows the
conventional mandala style where there is an obvious center and is slowly being
opened up to more circles. In particular, this mandala starts off as a square,
then a circle, and continues this pattern until it reaches the outer circle
that is closed off with the square shape of the actual image. Another
difference is the extensive use of colors in this mandala in contrast to the
Japanese ones and that the outer most corners attribute to the five senses. A few
similarities; however, is how they are supposed to be seen as three-dimensional
rather than on a wall so the difficulty of communicating is similar amongst the
two mandalas. Another similarity is the use of the lotus flower and petals, the
border that consists of Bodhisattvas who protect the teachings, and the
inclusion of fire imagery –as seen in the Taizokai mandala, representing
wisdom. To compare, similar to the Kongokai Mandala, the middle circle is
broken up into nine sections, giving different deities a specific section. The
usage of primary colors is also distinct because this is considered a “pure
expression” of the wisdom of the Buddha and the purity of him and his
teachings.

Both
Japan and Tibet have been deeply influenced by the teachings of Buddhism and
the esoteric sect of Buddhism. It is interesting to see how religion and
beliefs can be altered and also stay the same after so many years based on different
cultures. Indeed, Japan and Tibet have overlapping similarities being both Asian
countries with similar traditions, however seeing that the mandala and the Buddhist
teachings have altered the way the people of the country have lived is astonishing.

Similar, to understand that it was as simple as someone going to china,
learning the ways of Buddhist teachings and coming back to the country that changed
the belief system is also something to note. The effect culture, virtues and people
have on the evolution of traditions and religion is also important to see here
because although the meaning and beliefs behind mandalas itself has not
changed, based on the culture of Japan and Tibet, it has gradually changed its
form to match those cultures. Tibet still to this day practices the rituals and
festivities’ revolving around mandala creating but that is not see as prominent
in Japan anymore. Although Buddhism has remained one of the main religions in Japan,
Shintoism and Catholicism has also become a followed religion and also it seems
as though religion itself has slowly decreased in respect in Japan. The traditions
and histories of such people and religions are deeply respected and taught;
however, not many people in day-to-day society practice the Buddhist teachings
or find the interest in it as well.

 

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