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Arnold Lieberman

3. Mandala of Cakrasamvara
Late 15th-early 16th century, Sakya Tradition
Mineral pigments on prepared fabric
18.5 in x 14.5 in/ 47 cm x 37 cm image area
Mandala of Cakrasamvara
Detail: Mandala of Cakrasamvara detail 02

This splendid, intensely detailed Mandala of Chakrasamvara from the Sakya tradition was created as a visual tool for meditative practices. Chakrasamvara is one of the Highest Yoga Tantra meditational cycles in Tibetan Buddhism, where typically only the initiated are allowed access to the shrines and rituals surrounding Cakrasamvara and his prajna (wisdom consort) Vajravarahi . Meditation upon their symbolism is said to put the Tantric practitioner on a swift path to enlightenment .

In the center of this exquisite example, the entwined figures of Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi stand in non-dual union, surrounded by the sixty-two deities of the mandala. Every aspect of the iconography is resplendent with meaning. As an example, his four faces represent a myriad of possibilities such as the four purified elements, four boundless wishes, four emancipations, and four actions. The color of each respective face signifies a different element and direction . Chakrasamvara’s twelve arms and hands each carry symbolic implements, including a ghanta (bell) and vajra, in his two principal hands, symbolizing wisdom and compassion; in his fifth right hand he holds a flaying knife, which he uses to cut off pride and the other negative emotions.

The very structure of the mandala itself— multiple nested circular and square architectural features-- is a two-dimensional rendering of the enlightened universe, visualized as a magnificent palace seen from above. The iconographic complexity of this work cannot be overstated; it is resplendent with symbols and small totems representing an intricate multi-verse, each of which is rendered in jewel colors. Buddha Akshobhya, yogis, and lineage holders comprise the top register of the painting; protector deities and donors line the bottom. In the corner spaces outside of the mandala’s fire protection circle can be found other lineage gurus and meditational deities associated with this particular Chakrasamvara tradition, as well as auspicious symbols and other adornments. (Marguerite Mott)

Works Cited:

1. John C. Huntington and Dina Bangdel, The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art (Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2003), 260.

Detail: Mandala of Cakrasamvara detail 01
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