Mandala Offerings

My journalist friend, Kathryn Kukula visited the high mountains of China and Tibet this summer with a women’s adventure group. She brought me this intricate metal enameled “mandala” of nesting rings.  I was intrigued. It was beautiful and I’d never seen anything like it. We started to do some research and learned about the three dimensional aspects of mandala offerings.

the rings


A mandala represents an idealized universe. It’s a symbolic way to envision how the universe works. Mandalas represent the universe from the point of view of an enlightened being. It is a classic Vajrayana practice to work toward enlightenment by working to see the world as an enlightened being does.

The kind of mandala is a little different. The stacking rings are used as a preliminary practice and a form of offering. One visualizes the entire universe as something very pure and filled with all kind of precious substances, then offers that to the Guru and the Buddha.

The basic form of the world one envisions is a central mountain with four surrounding continents. That’s why it has a stacking form. There is an elaborate system for filling it up, each handful of rice representing continents or a precious elephant, or the sun or the moon, and so on.


The tiered mandala is part of temple offering, an is often accompanied by water vessels and flowers. The rice mandala cone, with its three tiers, is made up daily by the temple attendant, and is a symbolic offering according to Hindu and Buddhist cosmography, with Mount Mem (Tibetan: Rirab), the abode of the gods, as the culminating point.

My studio with the mandala filled for the New Year: 2010

The Mandala is a rich, complicated symbolic structure having many forms. One of the best resources I have found for the seriously curious is here.

One Response to “Mandala Offerings”
  1. bevdel says:

    Hi Lillian, Wow, talk about mandalas taking a person on a journey! I knew of mandalas only by seeing those made and shown by members of CMA. Just minutes ago I googled mandala and was amazed at the definition and history of the art. As well, there on Google results was your wordpress page, what is a mandala. My newest mosaic, which I consider a mandala led me to search out the meaning of “mandala”, which led me to you.
    I just finished this first mandala, not intentionally doing a mandala, but because the thought behind the composition was a complete circle: it demanded to be made in-the-round. I spelled it mandela in my planning notes, the same as Nelson Mandela–which shows how little I knew about it. It is a motif repeated five times on a round substrate. I finished laying stained glass yesterday and might yet get around to grouting it tonight, if possible, in which case I’ll post it on my CMA page photo album. The mosaic grew from a fascination with the wild-fire ravaged woods–from over a century ago–where I live in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Monstrous cedar and larch trees, some a metre (39”) across, burned to the point where only various tall or short, fat or slim, blacked and mutilated stumps remained. New forests grew from the ashes. They are spectacular to see and I’ve taken to photographing them and thinking about them.
    One way to view it is to think of one of these trees being a slender sapling in around 1813 (more or less–I don’t really have any idea how old they were when they burned). Then in 1905 and again in 1908, the city in which I live and the surrounding valley was destroyed by wild fire. Almost a century. Now, 2013, I am walking through mature forests in which the 100-year old blackened stumps are beginning to disappear from rot and wind. Compost for the new generation. Full circle.
    I’m calling my mosaic mandala “Flames to Flowers, A mosaic mandala of the life of a forest.” Five black stumps with orange and yellow flames connecting them in the centre partition the mandala into five segments containing green scenes of the woods. This mandala mosaic has been the container of my mind for the past two months as it was conceived, evolved and created.
    I wish I could meet you and talk to you; perhaps some day. Thank you for confirming my intuitive artistic journey in my newest mosaic through your own mosaics and your writing. (Actually, now I just have my fingers crossed that my mosaic skills are equal to my vision!)

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