What is a Mandala?

Lama Chödak Gyatso: Mandalas are definitely like a map to enlightenment. Mandalas can be two-dimensional, such as a painting or a sand mandala, or they can be more intricately represented as a three-dimensional mandala, such as the Shi-tro Mandala. The purpose of the mandala is to help sentient beings who are trapped in duality due to a confused fixation that holds us in an illusory experience we take as real. By entering into the practice of mandala, the confused fixation of grasping and clinging is crumbled, thereby unveiling one’s own true nature as the all-pervading Buddha nature. All sentient beings wherever they may be have this Buddha nature. The mandala represents the celestial mansion of an enlightened being, which is none other than our own true essence.

What does Shi-tro mean?

Lama Chödak Gyatso: The literal translation is “the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities of the One Hundred Buddha Families.”

What do the One Hundred Deities represent? Are they symbolic?

Lama Chödak Gyatso: The One Hundred Deities are simply a direct expression of the radiance of our innate wisdom and compassion, like the sun expressing its rays everywhere equally. The entire Mandala of One Hundred Deities is complete in our own mind and body.

In relation to universal peace, how does the Mandala work?

Lama Chödak Gyatso: Universal peace begins individually for each being as a transformation of negative emotions that is naturally tamed into a more kind and compassionate nature. This is the beginning of what can result in true universal peace, something that cannot be accomplished by decree or a large scale forced system, but must come from within for each individual. In a similar fashion, to see, hear of, think of, or otherwise come into contact with the Mandala has a transformative effect on people, awakening altruism and compassion in them, and causing these attitudes to grow. This contributes to one gaining the supreme state of natural freedom that is beyond all ordinary dualistic experience.

I was told it engenders compassion in every person by just viewing the Mandala. How does this happen?

Lama Chödak Gyatso: Our mind is like a seed that is fertilized by the vision of the Mandala which then grows into a compassionate and healthy plant. The interdependence between the viewer and the Mandala that is viewed embodies a cause and effect relationship that results in an increase of compassion in the viewer. Just through viewing the sacred representation of the Mandala there is a natural process of purification of an individual’s negative thoughts and habit patterns which takes place. This transformation truly takes place on an experiential level beyond the literal interaction of a mere question and answer. This is why it is of vital importance for everyone to make a connection with this Mandala.

Where does the blueprint from the Mandala come from?

Lama Chödak Gyatso: This particular Mandala is based on the teachings of Guru Rinpoche, who manifested by way of a miraculous birth in the ninth century, and who is considered to be the second Buddha. It is primarily due to Guru Rinpoche’s compasssion and enlightened activity that the Esoteric aspects of the Buddhist teachings are now present in the world for our benefit. There were 25 main disciples of Guru Rinpoche who maintained these esoteric teachings throughout the centuries. In the 18th century, the great Mindroling Lochen Dharma Shri complied the essence of these teachings into a single text, on which the Shi-tro Mandala is based.

What is your involvement and contribution to this project?

Lama Chödak Gyatso: In 1995, I first had the aspiration of creating the Shi-tro Mandala, primarily because of its qualities of liberation through seeing. Since then, we have maintained this aspiration by exploring avenues by which we could obtain the resources necessary for its construction. After several years it became clear that it would be difficult to gather all the needed resources prior to starting the project, so even though all the resources were not in place, we took the initiative to begin the project in 1999. This was done with the conviction that once we began the project, while maintaining our pure motivation for the benefit of all sentient beings, the needed resources would naturally manifest due to the power of the blessings of such an activity. This quickly came to pass, with first the artists arriving from Asia to work on the project, and then the wonderful offering by Forest Lawn Memorial Park of the workspace for the Mandala construction process.