Tibetan Sand Mandalas

The Tibetan art form of sand painting is an ancient and sacred practice intended to uplift and benefit not only every person who sees it, but also to bless the environment. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning circle, and in Tibetan is called kyil-khor, which means essence and circle. Every aspect of the mandala has meaning and nothing is arbitrary or superfluent. The colors and designs of each mandala have profound meaning originating in the ancient teachings of the Buddha, and have remained identical to these original teachings over the centuries, with each color being an antidote to specific negative emotions. Mandalas are used to enhance spiritual practice through imagery and meditation to overcome suffering by healing a person's body, speech, mind, as well as the healing environment. In essence, mandalas represent enlightened qualities, and are an important form of teaching in Vajrayana Buddhism to support living beings on the path to enlightenment.

Click one of the mandalas below to learn more about it and to see the image in more detail.

Wheel Of Life Mandala

Wheel of Life (Tahoe City, CA)

Wheel Of Life Mandala

Wheel of Life (Philadelphia, PA)

Kalachakra Mandala

Kalachakra (Chico, CA)

5 Dyani Buddhas

Time Lapse Video of 5 Dyani Buddhas (Philadelphia, PA)

Kalachakra Slide Show / See the various stages of a mandala in progress. (Chico, CA)

Mandala of Compassion

Mandala of Compassion (Chico, CA)

Wheel of Life


What follows is an explanation of the Wheel of Life Mandala createdby Losang Samten, August, 2006 in Tahoe City, California and in March, 2008 in Philadelphia, PA.

The Wheel of LifeThe Wheel of Life is 2,500 years old and was a gift from Buddha.When Losang Samten brought this gift to the United States he wasthe first to create this mandala in sand. No two mandalas look thesame, yet each is exactly the same in concept. The same symbols,characters and designs are used, yet not in a rigid duplication.The mandala reflects back to us much information about the natureof the human mind, which has a strong tendency toward the illusionof permanence. The medium of sand, however, reminds the viewer ofthe ultimate impermanence of this existence as well as of all things.

Wheel Of Life Mandala

Tibetan Buddhism views life as a cycle of birth, death and rebirthcalled samsara. Our samsara isour daily creation formed by the choices we make. The Wheel of Lifeis a visual aid helping us to understand this cyclical existence,while offering clear teachings as to why certain choices will simplycontinue to perpetuate suffering.

Sand painting is not a flippant art and there are many unseen challengesoverlooked even by those watching the process. Years of trainingto create the symbols and images are subsequently followed by trainingto create them upside down. The size, layout and construction, workingfrom the inside out, necessitate this ability. This fragile, multi-dimensional,impermanent painting in sand is layered with outer, inner and secretteachings cultivated to benefit all sentient beings.

This mandala is called The Wheel of Life or The Wheel of DeludedExistence. We are constantly evolving. We have been on Earth beforeand will return again; not as punishment but as a way to learn howto improve ourselves as well as to help other people improve thequality of their lives. The central teaching of this Wheel is thatour suffering is due to the effects of the threepoisons — anger, greed and ignorance to which we are so dearlyattached.

Explanation of the Mandala

The Wheel of LifeThe center of the Wheel of Life holds the three poisons — the snake representing anger, the rooster, greed and the boar, ignorance - on a background of blue, which symbolizes the nature of the human mind. From this stems the yin and yang, dark and light areas surrounding the center. On the light side are representations of those seeking to lessen the effects of the poisons and on the dark side are those figures suffering due to the presence and intensity of the three.

The next circle encases this. This circle is comprised of six realms sections that illustrate life situations and their main conditions which result from the effects of these three poisons in our life. In the realm of human existence we are subject to attachment during the birth, growth, death cycle. Within the animal kingdom, due to their predatory nature, we see the predominance of fear. If not hunting or being hunted they are subject to serving humankind.In the realm of karmic hell one faces the consequences of the presence of the three poisons in their life. In the area of the hungry ghosts the prevailing attitude is greed and stinginess. Never satisfied, they are constantly in pursuit of more. Jealousy permeates the realm of the demi-gods. They are always coveting what their neighbor has and are even willing to go to war to get it. Deluded pride abounds in the heavenly realm. There is a fixation on external beauty and an absence of appreciation for the inner beauty.Each of these sections also has the image of a radiant Buddha offering hope to every person on the journey. No matter how difficult the circumstances of one's life are at any given moment, the possibility of true liberation is always present. Contemplation and reflection on these images as well as ideas can help people in their personal growth because they are a powerful mirror of the human condition.

Wheel Of Life Mandala

The Outer Ring of the mandala has 12 illustrations representing the 12 phases of human consciousness: Beginning at the top we find a spiritually blind man. In his state of ignorance he easily loses his way. Moving clockwise, there is a potter whose daily creations represent our deeds, our actions in life, and the beliefs that we follow. Responsibility for the pots that we throw in life is ours. The monkey in a tree represents the "monkey mind", the constant chatter or the continuously shifting focus of the untrained mind. A boat rocking in the waves symbolizes physical, intellectual, or spiritual instability in our lives. An empty house with six shuttered openings depicts the six senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing, and the conceptual mind. The amorous couple symbolizes desire and the object of desire. Making contact. Embracing the perceived object of desire. The man with an arrow in his eye represents "feeling." He has been wounded by emotion and is experiencing the subsequent suffering. Next is the image of a person drinking wine and dreaming of an object not yet attained. His unrealized desires are stimulated by his perceptions and emotions. In the next frame comes the acquisition of the desired object, while dreams of the next acquisition perpetuate further dissatisfaction. Craving does not cease.

Continuing clockwise around the circle is the image of a pregnant woman symbolizing the new life we create by our desires and cravings becoming substantive in time.The subsequent birth depicts the becoming of this new life. This new life is subject to change as is all life. Old age and death are inevitable. Death does not end our suffering. Our friends we leave behind will suffer from our death, and we will begin a new cycle in the Wheel of Life.

The cure for all this suffering is to train the mind to notice and eliminate greed, anger and ignorance, which are the driving forces of this wheel.



KalachakraThis version of the Kalachakra mandala was created by Losang Samten on January 29th­March 8th,2008 at Calfornia State University, Chico. The Wheel of Time Mandala,sometimes referred to as the Kalachakra Mandala is a vital partof the peace practices within the Dalai Lama's Namgyal Monastery. Losang Samten was trained within that settingand was given permission by His Holiness to create this sacred painting.

Explanation of the Mandala

Mandalas, which have been around for millennium, speak to the depths within us that yearn to experience greater happiness and freedom. As circular representations of spiritual truths, they are intended to impart peace and healing to all beings as well as to the planet.

Kalachakra Mandala

At the Dalai Lama's request in 1988 Losang Samten was sent to create the Kalachakra Mandala at the Museum of Natural History in NYC. This was the very first mandala created as a cultural offering in the Western world, opening a great door for Tibet.

"The Kalachakra takes everything into account: the body and the human mind,and the whole external aspect. We firmly believe in its power to reduce conflict and we believe it is capable of creating peace, peace of spirit and therefore peace in the world."­ The Dalai Lama - 2007 Recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Sand Painting is traditionally from the monasteries of Tibet, used during sacred rituals and inspired by the teaching of impermanence.The sand is blessed through chants and prayers. The sand painting master, adept in the wisdom of "emptiness", evokes the sense of great bliss and inner peace through meditation. This intention is essential to the construction process as every moment and movementis performed as an offering.

In the tradition of the Namgyal Monastery, Losang creates this artwork using the long narrow metal funnels called chakpu. The movement of one chakpu against the other causes the sand to flow, creating a meditative sound. For the Buddhist practitioner this sound suggeststhe approach of higher consciousness, the teaching of interdependence and emptiness. The presence of both chakpu is necessary for this purpose; one symbolizing wisdom, the other compassion; a recurrent theme in Buddhism.

The colored sand is then delicately applied into remarkable and richly symbolic patterns. The Kalachakra Mandala, sometimes referred to as "The Wheel of Time", is one of Tibetan Buddhism's most complexworks of sacred art. This virtual floor plan for a multi-leveledpalace houses five separate yet interrelated mandalas. Each hasits own purpose to purify body, speech, mind, and then consciousness,culminating in the ultimate tier of Great Bliss.

Within the center of this palace reside the deity Kalachakra and his consort, Vishvamata. This sacred union and its representations are seen everywhere throughout this particular mandala as repeated affirmations of wholeness and completion. Sun and moon, feminineand masculine as well as pristine awareness with transcendental knowledge, all have fully merged. Also residing in this palace are 722 manifestations of the Kalachakra deity. These serve to bless the 722 chakras and channels of the initiate and viewer. The journey of the practitioner through this visual scripture is said to trace the progression toward the state of Awakening and Inner Peace.

Surrounding the palace and its grounds are the protective forces of the 5 Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Space. The outermost circle of the mandala represents the holding environment for all that that takes place within its embrace. Compassion and Wisdom have united and loving-kindness prevails in this cosmic setting.

A Dismantling Ceremony is held at the completion of this beautiful creation. The participants are then invited to help brush the sacreds and into the center of the mandala, which is a profound affirmation of the impermanence of all things. Each person is invited to take a small amount of the sand and the remainder is ritually poured into a nearby body of water as a great blessing.

5 Dyani Buddhas

(time lapse video)

5 Dyani Buddhas | Photography by Thomas Bugaj.

Mandala of Compassion


Mandala of CompassionMandalas are healing for an individual's body, speech, mind and the environment They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey.

The Mandala can be described as being the residence of enlightened beings. This sand Mandala of Chenrezig originated from the tantric teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni through the Buddhist nun Pema, whose name means lotus. Although depicted on a flat surface, the Mandala is actually three-dimensional, being a "divine mansion" at the center of which resides Chenrezig, Buddha of Compassion.

This Buddha is portrayed in several different forms, two of the most popular being a white deity with either four arms or 1000 arms; the extra arms symbolize the ability to help many beings simultaneously.

Explanation of the Mandala

Every aspect of the Mandala has meaning: nothing is arbitrary or superfluous. The red center and the four red petals are home to the five Buddha Families that correspond to the five qualities of enlightened beings. These qualities purify our form, feeling, perception, formation and consciousness. The Lotus family purifies passion into discriminating awareness.

Mandala of Compassion

The Buddha of Compassion, Chenrezig, whose name translates as "Unconditional Love to All Beings," resides in the center of the lotus. The symbol within this center is also a lotus which purifies greed, while the corresponding element is Fire. The associated chakra is the Throat Chakra.

On the Eastern red petal resides Akshobya "the Immutable or Imperturbable". The symbol is the blue vajra, which purifies hatred while the corresponding element is Space. The associated chakra is the heart chakra.

On the Southern red petal resides Ratnasambhava "The Jewel Producing". The symbol here is the yellow jewel, which purifies negative pride and the ego. The element is Earth and the associated chakra is the navel.

On the Western red petal resides Vairochana "The Illuminator". The symbol is the white wheel, which purifies ignorance. The associated element is Water and the chakra is the crown chakra.

On the Northern red petal resides Amogasiddhi meaning "unobstructed success". The symbol is the green sword, which purifies jealousy. The associated element is Air and the corresponding chakra is the base chakra.

The different colors of all the petals are associated with the chakra system.

The central lotus is surrounded by a vajra fence symbolizing protection from inner negativities.

The four colors of the directions of the mandala represent the Four Immeasurable Thoughts: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

The four outer walls of the mansion are in five transparent layers, colored as white, yellow, red, green, and blue, representing faith, effort, memory, meditation, and wisdom (these five colors also represent the five dankinis). At each corner is a depiction of the sun, moon and half vajra symbolizing wisdom and compassion, inseparable.

The four decorated, ornamental gates of the mandala symbolize all the different faiths in the world as being equal and beautiful methods for reaching the inner mandala.

The six outer lines represent the six paramitas or six perfections: generosity, morality, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, concentration and wisdom. These lines are ornamented with strands of pearls, jewels and the eight auspicious symbols. There are 16 dancer dakinis,(which are angels) holding different offerings representing 16 different types of wisdom.

Eight decorated pillars, 2 in each direction, represent the Noble Eight-Fold path of Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

The green circle is the center of the 64 lotus petals where the whole inner mandala resides. Within this green circle , in each direction are offering symbols - banners and dakinis in the clouds.

A surrounding vajra chain symbolizes protection from the outer negativities.

In the outmost region, the mandala is circled with burning flames and moving clouds which symbolize protection from outer negativities.

Creating and viewing the mandala in varying places is very beneficial for bringing peace and harmony to the community and the world. Just to glimpse the mandala, however, will create a positive impression on the mind-stream of the observer, who for a moment is in touch with the profound potential for perfect Enlightenment, which exists within the mind of all beings.