The mandala portrays the five traditional elements – earth, air, fire, water, and space – which combine to form our beautifully unified world, the setting for all life. These elements are compared with our five senses, which can combine together with conscious mind to form realization. The mandala is a pictorial representation of the undefiled mind, which demonstrates that perfect realization encompasses all things.

Traditional Mandala

A traditional mandala depicts a beautiful temple as seen from an aerial view. On the outer border is a ring of fire, a symbol of the transformative qualities of knowledge that can illuminate our existence and dissolve the obscurations that bar us from entering the mandala. The next layer often includes a ring of vajras, symbols of the diamond-like indestructibility of the teachings, with their emphasis on skillful means and enlightened action. A ring of lotus blossoms follows the ring of vajras. The lotus grows out of mud through stagnant water to emerge pure and unstained. It is a traditional image for positive creativity and realization arising out of darkness.

After passing through these three rings, we reach the multi-hued walls of the temple itself. Each wall has an arch or pagoda in the center, representing the doorway that leads to the heart of the mandala, where a deity is seated on a jeweled throne supported by a lotus. Different mandalas portray different deities, each of which can be thought of as an aspect of consciousness that can be transformed into enlightened awareness.

Colors in a Mandala

  • White
    • Placement: On the bottom
    • Direction: East
    • Element: Water
    • Emotion: Anger that can transform into reflecting all appearance in perfect symmetry.
  • Yellow:
    • Placement: On the left
    • Direction: South
    • Element: Earth
    • Emotion: Pride and ego that can transform into recognizing the humanity we all share.
  • Red:
    • Placement: On the top
    • Direction: West
    • Element: Fire
    • Emotion: Desire, lust, and greed that can transform into compassion
  • Green:
    • Placement: On the right
    • Direction: North
    • Element: Wind
    • Emotion: Jealousy that can be transformed into all-accomplishing action
  • Blue:
    • Placement: In the center
    • Element: Space
    • Emotion: Ignorance that can transform into wisdom and intelligence

How the Mandala Inspires Us

The beauty and order of the mandala can inspire us to allow the positive qualities we embody to manifest. In a natural setting, such as a park, we can see the five elements interacting harmoniously with grace. In the interplay of the thoughts and emotions within our own mind, we can recognize the possibility for each negative manifestation to be integrated into a more healing and holistic structure.

The mandala can show us how to use our own awareness. Just as the colors red, blue, green, white, and yellow can be combined to create a painting of great beauty and inspiration, so the thoughts, emotions, and feelings that color our experience can be blended into a harmonious whole. Awareness and compassion teach us that the concerns and cares of others are like our own. Seeing this, we are well on the way to creating an attitude that sustains harmony within and without, integrating us into the elemental world in which we live.

Click here to read about the Nyingma Mandala


Beyond the beliefs of any religion, there is the truth of the human spirit.

Beyond the power of nations, there is the power of the human heart.

-- Tarthang Tulku