To the initiate, the mandala of the Five Dhyani Buddhas is at once a cosmic diagram of the world and of himself. It is a tool for spiritual growth and mystical experience—a map to enlightenment alive with divine possibilities.
Buddhists often depict the Dhyani Buddhas in a mandala. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle,” translated in Tibetan texts as “center” or “what surrounds.” Some say the word derives frommanda, meaning “essence.” The mandala as a circle denotes wholeness, completeness and the perfection of Buddhahood. The mandala is also a “circle of friends”—a gathering of Buddhas. Traditionally mandalas are painted on thangkas (scroll paintings framed in silk), drawn with colored sand, represented by heaps of rice, or constructed three-dimensionally, often in cast metal.
A Dhyani Buddha is positioned in the center as well as on each of the cardinal points of the mandala. Mandalas were originally composed on the ground in front of the meditator and are therefore oriented toward the person who is contemplating them. The point nearest the contemplator, at the bottom of the mandala, is the east. The mandala continues clockwise, following the course of the sun, with south to the left of the contemplator, west at the top and north to the right.