Buddhism, Its Elemental my dear Watson….Part V,The Mandala

Buddhism, Its Elemental my dear Watson….Part V,The Mandala

“In Buddhism, knowledge in any form is subservient to transcendental wisdom.  Values, which arise from knowledge, are similarly subservient to wisdom.  If we could overcome the tendency to confer fixed values upon things the separateness between them would disappear. We could begin to regard things as they actually are.”

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


“If we read the poem in this light (the poem titled “The Bite” from the Visuddhi Magga), we can see that in its first few lines an enormous amount of information is given.  We may not be aware of this the first time we read it, it is rather like meeting a stranger.  It is only after we get into communication with this “stranger” that we discover the many wonderful things he has seen and done.  Buddhist literature and symbolism is like this stranger. We have to want to discover it; we have to make the effort to communicate in order to penetrate below the superficial.”

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


We have been going through a series on the Six Great Elements.  This may be completely new to many or a different take on it for some.  What I would ask is to read through this whole series and after it is done go back and re-read some of your favorite Buddhist literature and I guarantee that meanings will leap off the page that you never saw before.  Mundane passages will now be filled with wisdom.  Don’t get me wrong I am not taking any credit for this, this is the Buddhas Dharma.   I am just trying to convey my own experience when I came across the Esoteric teachings and it opened up a whole new world of Buddhist thought to me. Things that my Zen training had pointed to but I was to blind to see.   Things that had long since seemed confusing or even contradictory started to make sense and become less confusing.  I also started to see threads through the different teachings which held them all together that I did not see before. So as the passage above says let’s try to teach these new ideas like the “stranger”.


“Ken, Zen, Ichin-Yo – The body and mind are one”

So Doshin


“These systems basically indicated a general acceptance of the principle that the mental and physical factors of being should not be regarded as separate from each other, and that understanding one could develop insight into the other. The doctrine of mind/body inseparability was technically termed Abhisanditakayacitta—the “dropping away” of “being” from the sense of duality that centered upon mind and body.”

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


If you think about the symbology of the Six Great Elements (Maha Vairocana) you can see the truth in this idea of the mind and body being one.  They literally are!  Each of the 5 elements that make up your physical existence all contain consciousness. So there is no separation between your mind or body.  Furthermore since the same 6 elements that make up your mind and body are the same six that make up the universe there is no difference between you and the universe.  In a Buddhist sense when we refer to the universe it means “all things or all phenomena”.  Once again language can get in the way of our understanding.  Many of us when we here the term universe think of the way science currently describes it.  This definition means the universe that contains everything.  Meaning that the universe is an entity in and of itself that contains all other things.  The Buddha taught that all things (Dharmas) are without and abiding, individual, separate existence.  That includes the universe!  The universe is just a label that we apply to our incorrect notion of what it is.  Just like Bob is a label for a being that temporarily exists in the form of Bob and is made out of what already exists before it has taken the form of Bob.  The universe (in Buddhist terms) doesn’t “contain” anything, it is everything.  The problem is that our limited un-enlightened minds cannot comprehend infinity.  All the things that the “universe” is made of have always and will always exist.  The hard part is that all of these things just like the universe itself are under constant change and do not stay in any one state for more than a period.  They are all interdependent on each other.


“Since the beginningless past, pure original enlightenment has not looked to the cultivation of practice, nor has it been subject to some other power; its inherent virtues are completely perfect, and it is endowed with original wisdom; it both goes beyond the four propositions and is also removed from the five extremes; the word “naturalness” cannot express its naturalness, and the idea of “purity” cannot conceive of its purity; it is absolutely removed from verbalization and absolutely removed from conceptualization. An original locus such as this belongs to the extremity of ignorance and not to the station of knowledge.”

Nargarjuna, Comintary on the Mahayana Treatise


“The one and the many interpenetrate, and the underlying truth principle and phenomena interrelate.  Their manifold interconnectedness is compared to Indras net, and their inscrutable inter-fusion is likened to the light of many lamps.”

Flower Ornament sutra


“I (Vairocana) awoke to original non-birth, transcended the path of speech,

Obtained liberation from all faults, dissociated myself from causes and conditions,

And knew emptiness, which is like empty space.”

MahaVairocana Sutra


“I am identical with the station of the mind, sovereign everywhere,

And universally pervade various sentient and non-sentient beings.

The letter A stands for primary life, the letter Va refers to water,

The letter Ra refers to fire, the letter Hum refers to wind, and the letter Kha is the same as empty space.”

The Maha Vairocana Sutra


“All Dharmas are originally unborn; their inherent nature is dissociated from verbal discourse; They are pure and untainted; they consist of causes and karma, and are like empty space.”

Adamantine Pinnacle Sutra


Unborn here is meant in the same sense as you are unborn.  What we refer to as “birth” is not your beginning.  Everything that you are made up of in this present form existed before you were “born”.  So in that sense all phenomena are “unborn”, they have no beginning.


From the death of the Buddha and the start of Buddhism symbols have been used to convey other meanings.  Since the Absolute truth of the Buddha Dharma is beyond words it had to be conveyed with symbols and pointers.  The problem with language and pointers is that they can erroneously convey incorrect meanings.  Just like the Zen story about the finger pointing at the moon.  It is easy to mistake the finger for the moon if all your focus is on the finger.


Legend has it that when the monks asked the Buddha what type of monument he wished to have built after his death (one should recall that in India a monument for a monarch and a renown spiritual teacher were especially large and elaborate), the Buddha folded one of his monastic robes into a square and, inverting his begging bowl, placed it on top.  He then told the monks that this should be the shape of his monument.  From that time onward, this was the traditional basis for the Buddhist tombstone (stupa)- a square with a half circle shape above – although later generations enlarged, extended, and elaborated many of its features.”

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


The Buddha MahaVairocana represents all things, all phenomena, all Dharmas.  He represents what everything that exists is composed of. In his body are all things, all things are made up of him.  If you understand this then when you look at the core teachings of Anatta (Not-self), Anicca (Impermanence), Dukkha (Unsatisfactoryness, Suffering) and Shunyata (Emptyness) they all start to make sense.  All you have to do to see MahaVairocana (the universe) is to look inside yourself.


“In the 3000 fold world all the common multitude, Gods, men, titans, beings in hell, demons, and animals. All such forms and images appear there in his body (the Bodhisattva).  Though not possessed yet of the flawless, mystical, spiritual body, yet in his pure ordinary body, everything is revealed.”

The Lotus Sutra


“The Buddha has two kinds of bodies: one is the Dharma-nature body, and the second is the body born of parents.  This Dharma-nature body fills empty space in the ten directions, it is immeasurable and infinite, handsome in physical form, and adorned with the thirty two major characteristics and eighty minor marks of a Buddha, has innumerable light rays and innumerable voices, and the multitudes who listen to the Dharma also fill empty space.  It forever manifests different bodies, various designations, various birth places, and various expedient means to save sentient beings, forever saving all without stopping for even a moment.  Such is the Buddha of the Dharma nature body.  He who saves sentient beings in the ten directions and receives retribution for sins on the other hand is the Buddha body born of parents. The Buddha with a body born of parent’s progressively expounds the Dharma in the way that people in this world teach the dharma.”

Kukai, The meanings of sound, sign, and reality


As I mentioned earlier you can look on a Buddhist altar or temple as an unspoken visual language conveying what accurately cannot be conveyed with words, the essence of Enlightenment.  In Shingon and other Esoteric temples you will find examples of Mandalas.  The term Mandala literally means “circle”.  You will often see it written that the Mandala is a representation of the universe.  Once again I do not believe that this means the scientific meaning of the term but instead it shows representation of the relationship of all things.  The Mandala is both a representation of the “universe” and of Consciousness. There are two main Mandalas used in Shingon. One comes from the MahaVairocana Sutra and the other from the Vajrasekhara Sutra.


The Garbhakosa-dhatu (in Japanese Taizokai) mandala came from the MahaVairocana Sutra.  It is called Womb realm and it represents the physical universe made up of the 5 Great Elements. It is a representation of the body of the Buddha MahaVarocana.  It at the same time is a representation of our human body.  So in this visual representation of all “matter” in the Universe, the Buddha MahaVairocana’s body, our physical body, and they are all one and the same, there is no separation.


The second Mandala comes from the Vajrasekhara Sutra and is called the Vajra-dhatu mandala (Kongo-kai in Japanese).  It is the Diamond realm and represents the Mind (Consciousness) of the Buddha MahaVairocana.  This of course is the Sixth of the Six Great elements.  At the same time it represents our human mind.  So it shows that the Universal Consciousness (the sixth element), MahaVairocana’s Consciousness, and our Consciousness are one and the same, there is no separation.


The object of the Shingon ritual is to realize the union of these two mandalas.  It is also to realize the union of the the “Universe”, MahaVairocana, and ourselves.  There are many other mandalas but they primarily are just different representations of these same concepts.


“The Dharma, Karma and Samaya mandala forms are all representations of different aspects of the all-embracing (Maha) wisdom of Mahavirocana Buddha. The sammaya represents the personal relationship a student maintains toward the source of wisdom.  The Karma represents the activities the student engages in to realize this wisdom.  The Dharma represents the unavoidable voice of truth and reality awaiting realization by the student following the path.”

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


“The Tathagata invariably makes use of patterned signs when expounding the Dharma.  The essence of patterned signs lies in the six sense objects, and the six sense objects have their basis in the three mysteries of the Dharma Buddha.”

Kukai, The meanings of sound, sign, and reality


“The most important thing about the pictograph mandala is that its observer realizes he or she is part of it and that his or her presence before it confers”life” upon it.”

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


To be continued….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s