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date: 29 June 2022

Symbolism and Construction of the Kālacakra-Maṇḍalafree

Symbolism and Construction of the Kālacakra-Maṇḍalafree

  • Vesna A. WallaceVesna A. WallaceUniversity of California, Santa Barbara


The kālacakra-maṇḍala, whether as a purely mental object created in meditation through visualization or as a material object produced by the hands of artists and tantric masters, has a significant instrumental function in the Kālacakra tantric tradition. It is a complex, virtual object abounding in visual signs pointing to the transcendent, or sublimated, aspects of the practitioner’s outer and inner worlds. The kālacakra-maṇḍala is believed to have the capacity to induce desirable mental states, to produce religious knowledge in a nondiscursive manner, and to exercise purificatory agency. The maṇḍala’s expressive power and transformative agency dwell in its prescribed shape, structure, dimensions, colors, deity forms, emblems, mantric symbols, and other constitutive elements. However, its agency becomes fully effective when combined with the creative skills and mental powers of those who bring the maṇḍala into view. In the Kālacakra tantric tradition, the material kālacakra-maṇḍala, created for the rite of initiation, also has a social function in that it brings together the community of Buddhist tantric practitioners with shared religious goals.


  • Buddhism


The kālacakra-maṇḍala is an integral part of Kālacakra tantric practice, similar to the maṇḍalas specific to other Buddhist tantric systems of the Unexcelled Yoga Tantras (niruttarayoga tantra). It forms a core of the first two main phases of tantric practice: the phase of initiation (abhiṣeka) and the stage of generation (utpattikrama), which involves deity-yoga. In that respect, a kālacakra-maṇḍala can be either a physical object or a mentally visualized image. Material representations of the kālacakra-maṇḍala can be classified into two main categories. To the first category belong three-dimensional kālacakra-maṇḍalas, which traditionally have been cast in silver and gold or constructed out of other types of material. They are invariably decorated with precious substances, such as jewels, corals, pearls, and the like, and are often kept in large stūpas, temples, and shrines. To the second category belong two-dimensional maṇḍalas, which are of three types: those made with pulverized jewels, corals, pearls, grains, and the like; those painted on cloth (paṭa); and those painted on temple walls. These are architectural blueprints of a three-storied palace of nirvāṇa, symbolizing the body, speech, and mind of the Primordial Buddha (Ādibuddha) Kālacakra. A kālacakra-maṇḍala made with powdered substances is constructed exclusively for the sake of a Kālacakra tantric initiation, whereas a cloth maṇḍala can function as a material support both for a tantric initiation and for worship and meditation. A mural representation is never used as a material support for tantric initiations but only as a basis for meditation. In contrast to the material kālacakra-maṇḍala, one that is mentally constructed through an elaborate sādhana practice is not merely an objectified, mental image but also an internal, subjectivized maṇḍala located in the meditator’s mind–body complex.

Whether a visual representation of the kālacakra-maṇḍala is material or purely a mental object, it is encoded with multilayered symbolic meanings. Its shape, structural organization, various constituents and colors, and deities represent specific enlightened qualities of Kālacakra’s body, speech, and mind, which are the purified or sublimated aspects of our world-system (lokadhātu), our society, and the individual.

The Imagery, Structure, and Symbolic Meanings of the Kālacakra-maṇḍala

When interpreted as a representation of our world-system, the kālacakra-maṇḍala consists of five levels: a black wind-maṇḍala situated in limitless space; a red fire-maṇḍala, which is on top of the wind-maṇḍala; a white water-maṇḍala above it; and a yellow earth-maṇḍala on the top. These stacked maṇḍalas differ in size; the black wind-maṇḍala is the largest in diameter, and the others are sequentially smaller in diameter. These are represented in the kālacakra-maṇḍala by the five mentioned colors, which are associated with the elements that make up the external world, the body of the individual, and the five types of gnosis. On top of the earth-maṇḍala stands Mount Meru, and a multicolored lotus is situated in the center of its surface. Above the center of the lotus is a moon-disc, which is the same size as the center of the lotus. Above the moon-disc is a sun-disc and above that the rāhu-disc.

On top of these discs stands a brightly shining three-storied palace, or a vajra-pavilion, known as the mind-maṇḍala. The mind-maṇḍala, being the top level of the palace, is placed in the very center of the colored kālacakra-maṇḍala. In its center is a radiant maṇḍala with a lotus, symbolizing Kālacakra’s gnosis. On top of the lotus are the discs of the sun and moon, symbolizing wisdom and compassion, or wisdom and method. The second story of the palace is the speech-maṇḍala, symbolizing the enlightened speech. Outside that speech-maṇḍala is the body-maṇḍala, which is a half-size larger than the speech-maṇḍala and represents Kālacakra’s body. These three maṇḍalas, or stories, stand for the purified aspects of the individual’s body, speech, and mind. Each of the maṇḍalas has four gates, situated in the four cardinal directions, thus totaling 12 gates with arches made of gold and gems. At each of the 12 gates, there are chariots. Outside the gates of the body-maṇḍala are eight cremation grounds.1

In the practice of a kālacakra-sādhana, these maṇḍalas are placed in the reverse order, and the wind-maṇḍala, which represents the purified forehead cakra (lalāṭa), is on top of the other maṇḍalas. Below it is the fire-maṇḍala, signifying the purified throat cakra; below it is the water-maṇḍala, representing the purified heart cakra; and beneath it is the earth-maṇḍala, symbolizing the purified navel cakra. From the navel cakra, Mount Meru extends down to the secret cakra, represented in the mind-maṇḍala by a lotus, while the discs of the moon, sun, and rāhu symbolize the three nāḍīs (channels) above the navel—lalanā, rasanā, and avadhūtī—and three nāḍīs below the navel, conveying the feces, urine, and seminal fluid.

The Supreme Primordial Buddha Tantra (Paramādibuddhatantra) gives us another interpretation of the symbolic meaning of the kālacakra-maṇḍala when visualized in the practice of the stage of generation for the sake of attaining the mundane accomplishments (siddhi). In this interpretation, the entire kālacakra-maṇḍala symbolizes the sphere of reality, or absolute space (dharmadhātu), identified with a purified womb into which a buddha descends. The three maṇḍalas constituting the kālacakra-maṇḍala also stand for the Buddha, Dharma, and sublime saṅgha. The four vajra-lines, which mark the edges of the three maṇḍalas, are said to represent the four divine abidings (brahmavihāra), while the quadrangular walls of the kālacakra-maṇḍala represent the four applications of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna). The 12 gates signify the 12 links of dependent origination that have been eliminated; the arches of the gates represent the 12 grounds (bhūmi); and the cremation grounds in the cardinal and intermediate directions represent the eightfold noble path. Here, the 16 pillars stand for the emptiness of the five psychophysical aggregates (skandha-śūnyatā); the emptiness of the five elements (dhātu-śūnyatā), also called great emptiness (mahāśūnyatā); and the emptiness of ultimate reality (paramārtha-śūnyatā). Moreover, the upper stories represent the elements and the turrets on top of them stand for the eight types of liberation (mokṣa), the four purified elements (earth, water, fire, and wind) and four sense objects (form, smell, taste, and touch), and the eight qualities, such as small, large, yellow, red, and so on. The doorjambs and door wings symbolize the body, speech, and mind; the three fences of the maṇḍalas of the mind, speech, and body represent the three vehicles; and the five colors symbolize the five faculties of faith (śraddhendriya) and the five powers (bala).2 The pavilions of the three maṇḍalas stand for samādhis and dhāraṇīs, while the multicolored and jeweled strips of fabric represent the 10 perfections. The garlands of pearls represent the 18 unique qualities of the Buddha, the decorative bakulī flowers represent the 10 powers of a bodhisattva, and the galleries stand for the 10 virtues. The sound of bells that fills the palace symbolizes liberation through emptiness, the victory banners represent the four bases of supernatural powers (ṛdhipāda), and the shimmering the mirrors stands for the four exertions (prahāṇa). Moreover, the vibration of the yak-tail whisks symbolizes the seven limbs of awakening (bodhyaṅga), while the garlands symbolize the nine divisions of the Buddha’s teachings. The corners embellished with multicolored vajras represent the four means of attracting disciples (saṃgraha) to the Buddhist teachings. The jewels inlaid at the junctures of the gates and turrets symbolize the jewels of the four truths of the nobles, the five great discs encompassing the palace stand for the five extrasensory perceptions (abhijñā), while the surrounding vajra chain symbolizes the constituents of awakening (bodhipakṣa). A mountain range represents bliss (sukha) and the light rays symbolize the gnosis-vajra, while the sun and the moon represent wisdom and compassion.3 Although this interpretation of the symbolic meaning of the kālacakra-maṇḍala as a whole and of its constituents is given in the context of a sādhana practice, this does not preclude its reference to a physical representation of the kālacakra-maṇḍala but in fact adds to it an additional level of meaning.

Symbolism of Kālacakra’s Body and Other Deities in the Kālacakra-maṇḍala

In the center of the mind-maṇḍala stands the primordial buddha Kālacakra. As expounded in the Kālacakratantra’s “Chapter on Sādhana” and the Stainless Light Commentary (Vimalaprabhāṭīkā), the image of primordial buddha Kālacakra represents various sublimated aspects of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa, the conventional and ultimate realities. In both, the iconography and the sādhana practice, Kālacakra is visualized as having a body of blue color, wearing various vajra ornaments and an apron of tiger skin. He has three necks—a blue middle neck, a red right neck, and a white left neck—and four faces, representing the four enlightened activities: the dark and fierce front face, with protruding fangs; the right, red, passionate face; the left white, peaceful face; and the yellow rear face, abiding in samādhi. Altogether, he has six shoulders, or three pairs of shoulders. Of the three pairs, the first is dark blue, the second is red, and the third is white. His 24 hands hold various weapons and ritual implements, such as a vajra, sword, cleaver, fire-arrow, vajra goad, damaru, hammer, spear, rod, hatchet, wheel, bell, shield, khaṭvāṅga with smiling faces, a skull filled with blood, bow, noose, jewel, lotus, conch, mirror, chain, and Brahmā’s head. Each of his hands has five fingers, each of different colors, corresponding to the colors of the five types of gnosis and the five gross elements. His fingers glitter with seal-rings. His thumbs are yellow, the forefingers white, the middle fingers red, the ring fingers dark blue, and the smallest fingers green. Moreover, the three joints of each of his fingers are of different colors—starting from the palm of the hand, the first row of the joint is dark blue, the second row is red, and the third one is white.4

He is standing on discs representing the sun, moon, and kālāgni supported by a lotus. In terms of the symbolism of the discs regarding a person, they represent the three main nāḍīs of the subtle body—the lalanā, rasanā, and avadhūtī—whereas the lotus that supports them represents the heart-cakra. Kālacakra stands in the ālīḍha posture and tramples, with his two feet, the hearts of white Rudra and red Anaṅga (also known as Kāmadeva and referred to in the Kālacakratantra as Māra).5 Anaṅga represents the four main classes of māras, the hindrances to the attainment of nirvāṇa without remainder (niravaśeṣanirvāṇa).6 He has one face and four arms and holds in his hands a bow, five flower-arrows, a goad, and a noose. He is being trampled by Kālacakra’s red right foot. Rudra—representing the hosts of rudras who symbolize attachment, aversion, delusion, and pride—has one face with three eyes and four arms, which hold a trident, a damaru, a skull, and a khaṭvāṅga. He is being trampled under Kālacakra’s white left foot.7 Rati, the wife of Anaṅga, and Umā, the wife of Rudra, are stationed next to the soles of Kālacakra’s two feet and have distressed facial expressions.8

As for the symbolic meaning of Kālacakra’s body regarding time, this represents a sublimated aspect, or the transcendence of the conventional, saṃsāric wheel of time. His body represents a single unit of one day and one night and is said to consist of 12 lagnas.9 Thus, each of his two feet represents six lagnas, making 12 altogether. Each of his three throats symbolizes four lagnas, also making 12 lagnas. Moreover, each of his four faces represents three lagnas, making 12 lagnas; lastly, each of his six shoulders represents two lagnas, symbolizing a total of 12 lagnas. His 12 arms on the right and left sides of his body represent the 12 months of a year; and each of his 24 hands represents a half lagna, corresponding to the classification of the 24 fortnights of a year. His 360 finger-joints symbolize the number of days in a year.10

Standing in the alīḍha posture, Kālacakra is in a sexual embrace with his consort Viśvamātā, who is positioned in the pratyālīḍha posture.11 Her body, which is of a golden luster, is marked with mudrās. She wears the tiara of Vajrasattva and has four faces, 12 eyes, and eight hands. The four faces are the eastern, or front, face, which is golden yellow; the southern white face; the northern red face; and the western blue face. With her four right hands, she holds a cleaver, a goad, a damaru, and a rosary, while her four left hands hold a skull, a noose, a lotus with a hundred petals, and a jewel.

In terms of the body of the individual, Kālacakra represents semen whereas Viśvamātā represents menstrual blood.12 In terms of ultimate reality, their union symbolizes the enlightened awareness with two mutually pervasive aspects: the transcendence of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā), or emptiness, represented by Viśvamātā, and compassion, or method, represented by Kālacakra.

On the eight petals—which are in the four cardinal and four intermediate directions of a lotus within the mind-maṇḍala, where Kālacakra and Viśvamātā are stationed—are eight goddesses (śakti). Each of the goddesses has eight arms, four faces of four different colors, and 12 eyes. Four among these goddesses—Kṛṣṇā, or Kṛṣṇadīptā, on the southeastern petal; Raktā, or Raktadīptā, on the southwestern petal; Pītā, or Pītadīptā, on the northwestern petal; and Śuklā on the northeastern petal—hold yak-tail whisks in their hands. Standing behind them are four other goddesses holding a white Dharma conch, a red Dharma gong, a black wish-fulfilling gem, and a yellow wish-fulfilling tree. With their right and left hands, these goddesses also hold emblems, including musical instruments, bowls containing various ambrosias, fruit, medicine, and sandalwood. The eight goddesses represent the eight perfections—the perfection of generosity and so on—which are said to be contained within the perfection of gnosis (jñānapāramitā). Thus, they all emanate from Viśvamātā, who represents wisdom, or emptiness. The stage of visualization of the eight goddesses—together with the two central deities (Kālacakra and Viśvamātā)—symbolizes the arising of Vajrasattva accompanied by his consorts (mudrā).13

On the lotuses situated in the four cardinal directions stand the four tathāgatas—black Amoghasiddhi, standing on the sun disc of the eastern lotus; red Ratnasaṃbhava, standing in the southern lotus; white Amitābha, situated in the northern direction; and yellow Vairocana, located in the western direction. They have six arms, three faces, and nine eyes. In the center is Akṣobhya, who is here a presiding deity among these five tathāgatas. Here, in the kālacakra-maṇḍala, the tathāgatas represent the five purified psycho-physical aggregates (skandha) manifesting as the five types of Kālacakra’s gnosis. They are accompanied by four goddesses—black Tārā, yellow Locanā, white Māmakī, and red Pāṇḍarā—who are situated in the intermediate directions and symbolize the four purified elements (dhātu). Tārā represents the purified wind element, Pāṇḍarā the purified fire element, Locanā the purified earth element, and Māmakī the purified water element. The color of each of the four goddesses is determined by the color of the element she represents. In the context of a kālacakra-sādhana practice, the goddesses also symbolize the four applications of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna): the mindfulness of the body (kāya), of feeling (vedanā), of mind (citta), and of mental phenomena (dharma).14

Surrounding the four tathāgatas and the four female deities in the eight directions is a set of protective, fierce male (krodha) and female (krodhiṇī) deities standing in the ālīḍha and pratyalīḍdha postures, respectively. The visualization of these three groups of deities of the mind-maṇḍala—the five tathāgatas, four goddesses, and the fierce deities—symbolizes the first stage in the development of the body-vajra, which corresponds to the fourth month of embryonic gestation in the womb, when the name-and-form aggregate (nāmarūpa-skandha) is formed from the elements. According to the Stainless Light Commentary, this sublimated phase of embryonic development is preceded by the visualization of Vajrasattva, which corresponds to the first month of embryonic gestation, when semen enters the womb. This phase also corresponds to the arising of ignorance (avidyāṅga), the first link in the chain of dependent origination, and symbolizes the elimination of that link.15

There are four bodhisattvas on the walls at the four gates of the mind-maṇḍala and an additional two bodhisattvas below the walls of the northern and southern gates. They each represent one of the six purified sense faculties (indriya), corresponding to the arising of the ordinary sense faculties in the embryonic development during the fifth month. The colors of the four bodhisattvas at the four gates correspond to the colors of the four tathāgatas, or the purified psychophysical aggregates, and to the colors of the elements (the four goddesses), from which arise the sense-faculties (bodhisattvas). For details, see Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1. Bodhisattvas as Purified Aspects of the Sense Faculties and Their Origins, Colors, and Locations in the Maṇḍala



purified sense faculty

Elemental origin




Olfactory sense faculty (nose)

Wind element

Black like Tārā and Amoghasiddhi

Right of the eastern gate


Visual sense faculty (eye)

Fire element

Red like Pāṇḍarā and Ratnasaṃbhava

Right side of the southern gate


Bodily sense faculty

Earth element

Yellow like Locanā and Vairocana

Right side of the western gate


Gustatory faculty (tongue)

Water element

White like Māmakī and Amitābha

Right side of the northern gate


Mental faculty (mind)

Gnosis element

Blue like Kālacakra

Below the wall to the left of the northern gate below


Auditory sense faculty (ear)

Space element

Blue like Akṣobhya

Below the wall on the left of the southern gate

In the intermediate directions are situated goddesses, representing the sublimated six sense objects.

Table 2. Goddesses as Purified Sense Objects and Their Corresponding Elements, Colors and Locations in the Māṇḍala


Purified sense object

Elemental origin



Sparśavajrā (Touch vajrā)


Wind element

Black like Tārā

Southeastern direction

Rasavajrā (Taste vajrā)


Fire element

Red like Pāṇḍarā

Southwestern direction

Gandhavajrā (Smell vajrā)


Earth element

Yellow like Locanā

Northwestern direction

Rūpavajrā (Form vajrā)


Water element

White like Māmakī

Northwestern direction

Śabdavajrā (Sound vajrā)


Gnosis element

Blue like Samantabhadra

Left of the northern gate


Realm of phenomena/mental object

Space element

Blue like Vajrapāṇi

Left of the southern gate

Visualization of the bodhisattvas symbolizes the second phase in the development of Kālacakra’s body-vajra, which corresponds to the full development of the sense faculties and sense objects in the fifth month of embryonic gestation.16 Thus, they symbolize the purification of the fifth and sixth link—namely, the six sense objects (āyatana) and contact (sparśa) of the sense faculties with the sense objects—of dependent origination. In addition to these deities, there are secondary male and female deities in the mind-maṇḍala, standing in sexual union and holding different implements representing the emblems of the six buddha families.

The 64 yoginīs located in the speech-maṇḍala symbolize Kālacakra’s speech-vajra, the purified speech of the individual. The principal yoginīs of the speech-maṇḍala represent the purified, or eliminated, factor of feeling (vedanāṅga), whereas the body-vajra stands for the purified factor of craving (tṛṣṇāṅga). On the lotuses of the body-maṇḍala, in addition to nāgas, pretas, and bhūtas, are some 99 male and female deities holding various implements in their hands. They all represent the purified bodily constituents, bodily activities, desires, and counter-desires. Thus, with regard to the individual, the deities of the kālacakra-maṇḍala—which corresponds to the development of the embryo’s body, speech, and mind in the course of the nine months of gestation—symbolize the transformation of the person’s body, speech, and mind into a single Kālacakra’s four bodies: the gnosis body, represented by the lotus in the center of the mind-maṇḍala; the dharma body, represented by the mind-maṇḍala; the enjoyment body, represented by the speech-maṇḍala; and the emanation body, represented by the body-maṇḍala. The Kālacakratantra and the Stainless Light Commentary point out that all the constituents of the body, speech, and mind are taught as having the form of a maṇḍala for practical reasons—in order to stabilize the minds of inexperienced practitioners. It is further said that the deities of the mind, body, and speech maṇḍalas of the kālacakra-maṇḍala represent the purified aspects of the three realms of saṃsāra—the realms of desire, form, and formlessness.17

A Ritual of Constructing a Kālacakra-maṇḍala for Initiation and Its Prerequisites

According to the Stainless Light Commentary (ch. 3, v. 1), the Buddha taught the kālacakra-maṇḍala to enable sentient beings to gain merit and gnosis. He taught a maṇḍala in terms of mundane reality (lokasatya) and for the accomplishment of mundane siddhis and the accumulation of merit, not for the sake of attaining sublime bliss (mahāsukha). A vajra master (vajrācārya) who engages in preparing the measuring cords for a sand maṇḍala and in other activities related to the construction of a sand maṇḍala with the intention to achieve the mahāmudrā-siddhi through only such activity will have difficulty attaining awakening. One reason for this is that a sand maṇḍala is taught for the sake of the attainment of mundane siddhis (laukikasiddhi) and not for the attainment of the mahāmudrā-siddhi or the accumulation of gnosis. In support of this statement, Puṇḍarīka, the author of the Stainless Light Commentary, cites a stanza from the Primordial Buddha Tantra (Ādibuddhatantra):

One should not apply the vajra-measuring lines nor a powder in accordance with the true nature of the mantra. For the one who does so, awakening is difficult to attain.18

The true meaning of the word “mantra” is here glossed as gnosis (jñāna), based on the interpretation that gnosis is a protection of the mind (manas-trāṇa). Hence, the construction of a sand maṇḍala alone, despite being a meritorious action, has limited soteriological efficacy. But this does not preclude the necessity for a vajra master to know how to build a sand maṇḍala in preparation for a Kālacakra tantric initiation. Puṇḍarīka cites Āryaśūra’s Fifty Stanzas on the Guru (Gurupañcaśikā), v. 9, where Āryaśūra speaks of the qualities of a guru worthy of a disciple’s veneration, among which is mentioned knowledge of how to paint a maṇḍala.19

In order to bestow the seven Kālacakra initiations intended for the removal of disciples’ impurities and the acquisition of merit, the vajra master must set in motion the kālacakra-maṇḍala on the day of the full moon of the bright fortnight at the end of the month of Caitra.20 This allows the disciples to meditate on the maṇḍala and recite the mantras. Prior to preparing a kālacakra-maṇḍala at the site where the initiation will be performed, the vajra master must examine the color and taste of the soil on which the maṇḍala will be constructed. This is because different colors, smells, and tastes of the soil must correspond to different maṇḍala rites, such as the rites of pacification, prosperity, killing, exorcism, attraction, dominance, paralysis, confusion, and the all-accomplishing rite (see Table 3). If the soil does not correspond to the specific rite being performed, then one must dig a hole to the depth of water or a rock. This hole needs to be filled with the soil whose characteristics correspond to the desired rite, and the soil mixed with liquids and bodily substances that correspond to the characteristics of the rite. The vajra master also must know how to draw the maṇḍala; otherwise, it is said, he is destined for hell.21

Table 3. The Colors, Odors, and of Tastes of Soils in Relation to Mundane Rites

White soil

Black soil

Red soil

Yellow soil

Green Soil

Divine odor

Putrid odor

Lotus odor

Pungent odor

All odors

Astringent taste

Sour taste

Spicy taste

Sweet taste

All tastes

Rites of pacification and prosperity

Rites of killing and exorcism

Rites of attraction and dominance

Rites of paralyzing and confusing

All-accomplishing rite

The white powder is placed in the center of the maṇḍala for the rites of pacification and prosperity, the black powder for the rites of killing and exorcism, the red powder for rites of attraction and dominance, the yellow powder for rites of paralyzing and confusing, and the green powder for the all-accomplishing rite. Since individual colors of the powders applied in the coloring of a kālacakra-maṇḍala are utilized for a corresponding rite (e.g., a white colored powder is used for the rite of pacification and the yellow powder for the rite of paralyzing), all the aforementioned rites are said to be accomplishable through the kālacakra-maṇḍala. The purification of powder in the kālacakra-maṇḍala is accomplished through images of the maṇḍala’s deities, which correspond to the lights of the five types of the gnosis of Vajrasattva.

The vajra master must, with his own hand, make a single string for measuring and delineating the lines of a maṇḍala. The length of the string should be four times the width of a maṇḍala; the string can measure up to eight cubits in length in the case of a larger maṇḍala.22 Using a string woven from three threads spun by a virgin girl, the vajra master is to take three such strings and intertwine them into one to the width equal to that of his thumb. The maṇḍala itself can measure from one up to 1,000 cubits. According to the Primordial Buddha Tantra, the mind-maṇḍala should be 12 cubits in circumference, in which case, the string should measure 24 cubits. The speech-maṇḍala should measure 16 cubits, and the body-maṇḍala should be 20 cubits. Commenting on ch. 3, v. 19, Puṇḍarīka tells us that in the case of a large kālacakra-maṇḍala measuring 1,000 cubits, the tantra does not indicate that a string measuring 2,000 cubits should be applied, simply because it would be too large.23

Before the vajra master draws a kālacakra-maṇḍala, his body and the bodies of his disciples, as well as the ground, must be ritually protected. Thus, having arrived at the prepared ground for a maṇḍala, the vajra master, stationed in the center and facing east, sits on a soft cushion. With a vajra, he places the syllables oṃ, āḥ, hūṃ, ho, haṃ, and kṣaḥ on his bodily cakras. The forehead cakra stands for the white disc of the moon, the throat cakra for the red disc of the sun, the heart cakra for the black disc of the rāhu, the navel cakra for the yellow disc of the kālāgni, the crown cakra (uṣṇīṣa) for the blue space-disc, and the secret cakra for the green disc of gnosis. After meditating on these six cakras as maṇḍalas and protecting other parts of his body, he imaginatively incinerates the hosts of māras and other negative entities, makes a bali offering to the kṣetrapālas, and performs a ritual protection of the country. By means of a long series of other protective rituals and meditations, he creates the wheel of protection (rakṣācakra) and purifies the ground, invoking and worshipping the earth goddess. After that, he prays to the buddhas of the 10 directions and to the bodhisattvas and their wives for his own protection, which is needed for granting initiation into the maṇḍala. Likewise, for the sake of protection, he pegs down all the fierce deities (krodha) in the 10 directions with pegs made from the strong wood of a khadira tree.24

The ritual purification of the ground must be performed on the fifth, the tenth, or the 15th day of the lunar month. For the auspicious rites, the ground must be purified on the fifth, tenth, or 15th lunar day of the bright fortnight, and for the inauspicious rites, it should be purified on the fifth, tenth, or 15th lunar day of the dark fortnight. The vajra master also must know the proper, fixed time for drawing a kālacakra-maṇḍala. A measuring string must be applied on the 12th lunar day, an intoxicant (madana) offered on the 13th lunar day, and the colored powder of the maṇḍala applied on the 14th lunar day.25

After protecting the cakras of disciples, the vajra master must also protect the texts. He further addresses the buddhas, declaring: “I will draw a such-and-such maṇḍala of the lord for the sake of the liberation of sentient beings.”26 He must know how to interpret the bad omens that may arise during the application of the measuring string and colored powder. For example, if a measuring string breaks, this indicates impending harm to the guru and the disciples’ inability to overcome obstacles. Likewise, if wind disturbs the maṇḍala powder, this forewarns of danger to the kingdom and ruin of the territory. In order to divert those dangers, the vajra master recites the Kālacakra mantra. If the bad omen reoccurs, he is advised to draw the lines, with his left leg in the squatting posture and the sole of the right foot resting on the ground.27

After a meditation on the chosen deity (īṣṭadevatā), the master places the syllables on his body, engages in the extensive recitation of mantras related to a self-empowerment, and performs a bali offering, the removal and binding of obstructing māras and demons, and 10,000 homa offerings. He then performs a ritual of perfuming the ritual implements, including a measuring string. While perfuming the measuring string, he recites these mantric words: “oṃ āḥ hūṃ ṝ lṝ vajrasūtra sarvadharmair ekasvabhāva sarvadharmān ekākārasvabhāvān kuru svāhā” (“Oṃ āḥ hūṃ ṝ lṝ, vajra-string that shares the same nature with all phenomena, make all phenomena have a single aspect and nature!”). Having offered the perfume, he deposits the string on the eastern side of the platform on which the kālacakra-maṇḍala will be constructed. After that, he proceeds to perfume the powder while reciting the mantra: “oṃ aṃ iṃ ṛṃ uṃ ḷṃ suviśuddhapañcaskandhasvabhāva pañcaskandhān suviśuddhadharmān kuru kuru svāhā” (“Oṃ aṃ iṃ ṛṃ uṃ ḷṃ, purified nature of the five psychophysical aggregates, make the five psychophysical aggregates into purified phenomena!”). Having offered perfume to the powder, he deposits the dishes, holding the powder on the western side of the platform.28

Having again subjugated the māras and offered bali, he offers the perfume, incense, and the like to the vajra string on the western side of the maṇḍala platform. Having mixed various substances intended for different rites, such as pacification, the vajra master and his disciple stretch a measuring string; the master faces east and holds the measuring string with his left hand, and the disciple faces west and holds it with his right hand. While doing so, the master recites the mantra: “oṃ āḥ hūṃ a kāyavākcittaikabhūtāḥ sarvadharmā ekākāreṇa vajrasattvo ‘haṃ vajrabhūmiṃ sūtrayāmi hūṃ āḥ phaṭ” (“Oṃ āḥ hūṃ a, all phenomena being identical with the body, speech, and mind have a single aspect. I, Vajrasattva, will measure the vajra platform with a string, hūṃ āḥ phaṭ”). Then he utters the mantra: “oṃ vajrasūtraikākārasvarūpeṇa jaḥ jaḥ jaḥ sarvadharmān sūtraya oṃ āḥ hūṃ ho haṃ kṣaḥ phaṭ” (“Oṃ string together all phenomena jaḥ jaḥ jaḥ with the nature of a single aspect of the vajra string, oṃ āḥ hūṃ ho haṃ kṣaḥ phaṭ”). After that, both the vajra master—with his right leg in the semi-squatting posture (ardhaparyaṅka) and his left foot resting on the ground—and his disciple, who is in a similar posture, draw the brahma lines on the eastern and western sides of the platform.29 Then, the vajra master, standing at the southern side of the platform with his disciple at the northern side, places the northern and southern brahma string at the four gates, above the pegs, in the eastern, western, southern, and northern areas, and lastly at the corners. After that, they incrementally place the string in the four intermediate directions. Then, starting from the eastern and western lines, they place a string in the southern and northern areas; and then from the southern and northern areas, they place it in the western and eastern areas. Having offered the perfume, incense, and so on, the vajra master ritually protects the strings and breaks them.30

Afterwards, the vajra master stands at the eastern direction of the maṇḍala, while facing west, and his authorized disciple stands in the west, facing east. Having measured the quadrangular platform of the maṇḍala, they draw the brahma line in the center. Then the vajra master stands at the southern area of the maṇḍala, facing north, and the disciple stands at the northern area, facing south, and they place the brahma line again. They apply it to the corners in order to purify the corners. From the brahma line in the center to the southern section, there are 96 lines. There are the same number of lines from the brahma line to each of these sections: the northern, eastern, and southern sections. From the center to its border, the kālacakra-maṇḍala has 192 lines altogether. From among these lines, 48 lines delineate the mind-maṇḍala. The outline drawn by the lines of the speech-maṇḍala is twice as large as that of the mind-maṇḍala. The outline formed by the lines of the body-maṇḍala up to the gates of the great maṇḍala is twice as large as that of the speech-maṇḍala. The five walls and arches, together with the four discs of earth, water, fire, and wind and a vajra-line, delineate the body-maṇḍala up to the outer area or space.31

According to the Primordial Buddha Tantra, cited by Puṇḍarīka, the vajra master, before drawing the kālacakra-maṇḍala, must first make a smooth, quadrangular platform consisting of 16 sections for the body-maṇḍala; then he must make the speech and mind maṇḍalas. Commenting on this instruction, Puṇḍarīka explains that each of the maṇḍalas consists of 16 sections. Within the 16 sections of the body-maṇḍala, a single section measures the 24 fingerbreadths. After the four sections within the four directions are drawn comes a drawing of eight sections on each side of the speech-maṇḍala. The 16 sections of the speech-maṇḍala measure 12 fingerbreadths, whereas the 16 sections for the mind-maṇḍala measure six fingerbreadths.

After drawing a brahma line, the vajra master draws the lines measuring four fingerbreadths in each of the four cardinal directions. The pericarp of the central lotus of the mind-maṇḍala is for the seat of the two principal deities. At the gates in the four cardinal directions are the lotus seats of other deities. The petals of the lotuses measure eight fingerbreadths. The lotus of the principal deities is three times larger than the seats of the remaining male and female deities. In the axial place, the lotus of Kālacakra measures 24 fingerbreadths; the pericarp, which forms one-third the width of the lotus, measures eight fingerbreadths. Outside the petals of the central lotus is a place for a vajra line. Placing a line between the lotuses of the deities, which measure eight fingerbreadths, the vajra master makes the platform of the fences, arches, and pillars. Then, outside the seats of the tathāgatas is a vajra line, going between them and the four goddesses. In the inner recesses are eight seats, on top of which are either vases or kapālas. After that, the seats of the gods and goddesses who represent the sense objects and the sense faculties are outlined. Following this, the three fences, a pavilion, ribbons, string of pearls, string of bakulī and viśīrṣa flowers, and so on are outlined.32 After that, the walls, gates, pillars, arches, lotus seats of the deities, lines of ribbons, and so forth of the mind, speech, and body maṇḍalas are outlined according to the prescribed measurements.33

Preparation and Application of the Powder

After completing the drawing of the three maṇḍalas and purification of the seats of the deities, the vajra master offers the bali, together with perfumes, flowers, and the like. This is followed by the preparation of the five colored powders used for coloring the kālacakra-maṇḍala. The five colors correspond to the colors of five tathāgatas, which represent Kālacakra’s five types of gnosis in the maṇḍala. The five colors also correspond to the previously mentioned colors of the five elements, in the environment and in the person’s body. The powder is made by pulverizing five types of gems: the black powder is made from pulverized sapphires, the red powder from rubies, the white powder from moonstones, the yellow powder from karketaka gems, the blue powder from blue sapphires, and the green powder from pulverized emeralds.

In the case of a kālacakra-maṇḍala made for a universal (sāmānya) cakravartin, the yellow powder is made of pulverized gold, the white powder from pulverized pearls, the red powder from pulverized coral, the black powder from lapis lazuli, and the green powder from a mixture of the powders from the four aforementioned precious substances. For all other ordinary people, the kālacakra-maṇḍala can also be colored with powders made from common substances, such as crushed kidney beans, whole rice, and pulverized or crushed gems.

The five colors of the powders used in coloring the kālacakra-maṇḍala correspond to the colors the five tathāgatas and to the colors of the elements associated with them (see Table 4).

Table 4. Colors of Powders and Their Correspondences

White powder

Yellow powder

Red powder

Black powder

Blue powder






Water element

Earth element

Fire element

Wind element

Space element

The powder is applied in the four cardinal directions of the maṇḍala, and each of its colors corresponds to the color of one of the four faces of Kālacakra. Thus, the black powder is applied in the eastern section of the maṇḍala, corresponding to the black face of Kālacakra, which faces east and symbolizes the purification of the mind; the red color is applied in the southern section, corresponding to the red face, facing south and representing the purification of speech; the yellow powder is applied in the western section, corresponding to the yellow face, which faces west and symbolizes the purification of gnosis; and the white powder is applied in the northern section, corresponding to Kālacakra’s white face, facing north and representing the purification of the body. After that, the powder is applied in the intermediate sections of the maṇḍala, beginning with the northeastern section. This is followed by the coloring of the white terrace, red ribbons, black necklaces of pearls, garlands, semi-garlands, mirrors, chowries, white bakulī flowers, yellow pillars, white tips, and the white and red lotuses of the deities as well as the white, red, and black lines of the walls, which represent the purified body, speech, and mind.34

The eight-petalled lotus in the center of the mind-maṇḍala, the seat of the presiding deity Kālacakra, is colored with green powder since green represents gnosis. Outside the lotus are 16 pillars, four in each direction, individually marked with a decorative dagger, jewel, wheel, and lotus. Outside the central lotus, in the four intermediate directions, are a white dagger in the northeast, a red Dharma gong in the southwest, a black wish-fulfilling jewel in the southeast, and a yellow wish-fulfilling tree in the northwest. The white pitchers of the goddesses who belong to the four tathāgatas of the mind-maṇḍala are in the intervals between the 16 pillars. The white seats of the goddesses are on the top of red, or sun-colored, lotuses, and the red seats of the male deities are on top of white, or moon-colored, lotuses. The seats of the male deities are on the petals of the four cardinal directions of the eight-petalled lotus within the mind-maṇḍala, and the seats of the four goddesses are on the petals of the intermediate directions. Outside the eight petals is a row of vajras.

Within the speech-maṇḍala, the vajra master draws the lotuses for the yoginīs holding white ribbons (paṭṭikā) and, in the body-maṇḍala, for the īcchā and pratīcchā classes of goddesses, who represent the sublimated aspects of the individual’s desires and counter-desires. The eight lotuses supporting the goddesses with ribbons are in the cardinal and intermediate directions. Of these, the red lotuses are in the cardinal directions, and the white lotuses are in the intermediate directions. The five lines in the speech-maṇḍala represent the flow of the maṇḍalas of the five elements—space, wind, fire, water, and earth—in the body. Their colors correspond to the rites of pacification, paralyzing, and so on. For example, the earth element represented by the yellow line relates to killing and paralyzing due to the efficacy of the guṇas of prakṛti and so on. The colors also correspond to the creation and dissolution of the body. For instance, the green line in the maṇḍala, which is relevant to the rites of pacification and the like, corresponds to creation, whereas the yellow line, related to the rites of killing and so forth, corresponds to dissolution.35

After the coloring of the speech-maṇḍala comes the coloring of the seats of the kings of nāgas, such as the mārutas (“those belonging to the wind”) and others, in the outer body-maṇḍala, on the terraces (vedikā) beneath the arches and pillars at the boundaries of the gates. A circular, black maṇḍala of the mārutas is drawn at the right and left sides of the eastern gate; a triangular, red fire-maṇḍala is in the south; a quadrangular, yellow earth-maṇḍala is in the west; and a half-moon-shaped, white water-maṇḍala is in the north. Their emblems are the black, red, yellow, and white bindu, swastika, vajra, and lotus, respectively. Following this is the coloring of the black, red, yellow, white, and blue chariots at the gates and the white and red cakras of the cremation ground. Thus, throughout the kālacakra-maṇḍala, the colors of the powder must accord with a classification of the colors of the five tathāgatas.

Following completion of the coloring of the speech-maṇḍala comes the coloring of the locations of the sun and the moon in the body-maṇḍala. The rising of the moon on a pūrṇimā day is depicted in the northeastern direction, and the setting of the sun in the southwestern direction. Above the gates, on the first upper story, in the central spot of the arch in the east, is a black Dharma-wheel with a deer to its right and left. It represents the purified mind-cakra. The deities of worship (pūjādevatā), with their respective colors, are situated at the surrounding locations nearby. On the arch of the southern gate is a red vase of fortune (lottery vase), which represents purified speech. On its right and left sides are a conch and a lotus. On the arch of the northern gate is a kettledrum, with a white staff and a mallet on its right and left sides. On the arch of the western gate is a yellow bodhi-tree, with a male centaur (kinnara) on its right and a female centaur on its left.36 In accordance with the classification of the wind and the other mentioned elements, in the central mind-maṇḍala, the applied powder of the black and other walls is elevated by the measure of a quarter of a barleycorn.37 In the speech-maṇḍala, the elevation of the walls is doubled, and in the body-maṇḍala, it is tripled.38

The vajra master must be aware of what undesirable consequences follow if the lines of the maṇḍala’s walls are made indistinguishable or unattractive. If the lines are unbecoming, then rites of pacification or prosperity will bring the opposite results for the vajra master’s patron. If the line is too thick, it will cause illness to the vajra master’s patron. If a line is bad and too thin, it indicates the loss of possessions. A broken line will cause death, and a crooked line will cause the banishment of the king and his subjects. Moreover, if an emblem is broken or if the seats of the sun and the moon are broken, the mantrī will not attain the siddhi that destroys the dangers of cyclic existence. If a coloring powder is mixed up, the patron’s lineage will be broken. By saying that when there is a succession of patrons there is also a continuity of vajra masters, Puṇḍarīka reminds the vajra master that his livelihood depends on patrons of the Kālacakra initiation.39 The vajra master is further instructed not to insert into the maṇḍala any symbol out of his desire to decorate it if that symbol is not mentioned in the tantra. If he does so, such a symbol becomes the symbol of māras in the vajra master’s Vajrasattva family because of the excessiveness of symbols and because of doing what is contrary to the prescription given in the tantra.40

Purification of the Cosmic System and Body Through Purification of the Kālacakra-maṇḍala

Based on the Kālacakratantra’s principle: “as it is in the environment, so it is in the body, and as it is in the body, so it is in the powder maṇḍala,” Puṇḍarīka asserts that through a ritual purification of the kālacakra-maṇḍala, our cosmic system becomes purified. This is expressed in the Primordial Buddha Tantra, which reads:

Just as it is in the environment, so it is in the body. Just as it is in the body so it is elsewhere.

Being familiar with the threefold maṇḍala, the master should draw the [kālacakra-] maṇḍala.41

A measure of the 400,000 leagues of our cosmic system corresponds to four cubits in the person’s body; and in the maṇḍala, the measure of the cosmic system can span from one cubit to 1,000 cubits.42 Likewise, in the maṇḍala, the earth disc measures 48 fingerbreadths from the center to the boundaries of the gates in all directions. The central lotus of the presiding deities measures 24 fingerbreadths, and it corresponds to the enclosures of the tathāgatas in all directions of the universe that extend as far as the six continents, six oceans, and six mountains measuring 1,000 leagues. The size of the central lotus also corresponds to the measure of Meru, which extends 50,000 leagues above and below. Moreover, the earth disc, which measures 25,000 leagues in our cosmic system, extends in the maṇḍala as far as the gates of the powdered ground. According to Puṇḍarīka, the measure of the central mind-maṇḍala (garbha-maṇḍala) corresponds to 100,000 leagues of the cosmic system, which is occupied by six islands, oceans, continents, and Meru. In the speech-maṇḍala, a disc of the salty ocean extends from the four gates in the four directions out to the goddess Carcikā and measures 48 fingerbreadths in the four directions. The size of the speech-maṇḍala corresponds to the size of the water-disc of the maṇḍala of our cosmic system, which measures 200,000 leagues in all directions. The fire-disc, which measures 300,000 leagues within our cosmic system, extends in the four directions from the gates of the speech-maṇḍala up to their tips, and measures 48 fingerbreadths. The wind-disc, which measures 400,000 leagues in our cosmic system, extends to the end of the gates of the body-maṇḍala and measures 48 fingerbreadths.43 The uṣṇīṣa on the top of Meru, which measures 25,000 leagues in our cosmic system, is represented by a lotus in the central maṇḍala and measures 24 fingerbreadths. Likewise, the three parts of cosmic Meru—the face, measuring 50,000 leagues; the throat, measuring 25,000 leagues; and the face, measuring 50,000 leagues—are purified within the maṇḍala.

The abode of nāgas and each of the seven hells are also purified, as is the area extending from the hips to the ends of the feet in the maṇḍala. The vajra master is further instructed to purify the entire earth within the bodies of all sentient beings. Interpreting the above-cited verse from the root tantra, Puṇḍarīka explains another type of purification in the maṇḍala, pointing out that gnosis is present in the hearts of all sentient beings and that the unbeaten sound of that gnosis always has the characteristic of the nāda. Thus, the purified heart-cakra is represented by a central lotus in the mind-maṇḍala. The speech-maṇḍala represents the purified area of the body, extending from the throat to the navel; and the body-maṇḍala represents the purified area spanning from the space between the eyebrows to the sexual organ. The four gates of the body-maṇḍala represent the four purified apertures related to the flow of feces, urine, and semen, and to the crown cakra. The gates of the speech-maṇḍala are the four purified nāḍīslalanā, rasaṇā, avadhūtī, and śaṅkhinī—extending from the throat to the border of the navel. The gates of the mind-maṇḍala represent the purified four states of the mind—the waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and the fourth state (tūryāvasthā). Thus, a creation of the body, speech, and mind maṇḍalas symbolizes one’s arising as the primordial buddha.44

In contrast to a sādhana on the kālacakra-maṇḍala, where the tantric adept visualizes the maṇḍala deities in their anthropomorphic forms, in many maṇḍalas painted on cloth, and here in a maṇḍala colored with powder, the presence of the deities is marked with mantric syllables. Among various mantric syllables, the syllable oṃ represents the body-vajra, or a maṇḍala arisen from gnosis. On the 24 lotuses within the kālacakra-maṇḍala are sun and moon seats, which correspond to the classification of the days of the full and new moon throughout the year. The 12 moon-seats correspond to the classification of the 12 days of the full moon within a year, and the 12 sun-seats correspond to the 12 days of the new moon. These 24 seats also correspond to the classification of purified wisdom (the sun) and method (the moon). On the top of the pericarp of those 24 lotus seats are vowels, beginning with a, and consonants, beginning with ka, and so on that include the anusvāras and visargas. On top of the bindu (anusvāra) is emptiness, the mother of the three worlds, Prajñāpāramitā, who has all aspects, and the form of the nāda, or the unbeaten sound. She is thus on the top of all mantras. Kālacakra, who is of the nature of sublime bliss, is also present there. After their presence is marked with the syllables, the syllables of the vajras of the body, speech, mind, and gnosis—which are said to have 12 aspects corresponding to the 12 purified links of dependent origination—are placed in their designated locations within the maṇḍala.

The insertion (nyāsa) of mantric symbols into the maṇḍala is said to be of three kinds: gross, subtle, and another different type. A gross insertion involves the form of deities transformed into symbols, such as the vajra; a subtle insertion involves the insertion of symbols such as the vajra, having transformed them into mantric seed syllables. The third type involves the insertion of the mantric seed syllables. The insertion of mantric seed syllables is followed by the insertion of emblems. The seed syllable hūṃ is made with blue powder on top of the discs of the sun, moon, and rāhu, which are located on the top of a multicolored lotus, a seat of Kālacakra. Stacked on top of each other, these three discs represent the union of the sun, moon, and rāhu at the time of an eclipse. With regard to a person, the lotus and the three discs represent the heart-cakra together with the lalanā, rasaṇā, and avadhūtī. After that, the seed syllables on the petals of Kālacakra’s lotus represent generosity and the other perfections. Following this is insertion of the emblems such as the incense ladle, lamp, edibles, and conch, and a series of syllables placed in the intermediate directions and in the second row of petals. This is followed by insertion of the seed syllables of the five tathāgatas and their consorts. The insertion of the seed syllables of other male and female deities, representing the sense faculties and the sense objects, corresponds to their purification. This is followed by an insertion of the syllable of the guardians of the gates of the maṇḍala, and of the symbols and seed syllables of the remaining deities of the mind-maṇḍala. After that, the seed syllables of the deities of the speech and body maṇḍalas are inserted.45

After all this has been done, the vajra master, for the sake of protecting the kālacakra-maṇḍala’s gates, presents to the maṇḍala his disciples who have taken the tantric vows (vrata) and precepts (niyama) and are free from the 14 downfalls (mūlāpati). They stand at the four gates of the maṇḍala, fully initiated and empowered, each holding a vajra and a vajra-bell in their hands. Tantric yoginīs of the vases stand in the four intermediate directions. The vajra master then takes on the identity of the god Gaṇeśa and appoints his fifth disciple, who is skilled in all rites, as the one with power over the rites (karma-vajrin). In the absence of such a disciple, the vajra master, as Gaṇeśa himself, performs the homa and other rites.46

At the completion of a homa rite, the vajra master takes water for the purification of the mouth and offers incense to the fire. With an exhalation, he releases the fire of gnosis within his heart-cakra. He then recites the mantra: oṃ jaḥ gaccha gaccha mahāraśmi svasthānaṃ saṃtṛpto ho punar āgamiṣyasi devasya yadāhvayāmi svāhā (“oṃ jaḥ, go, go, great splendor, to your own place! Satisfied, ho, you will come again when I summon the deity, svāhā”).47 Having now become an ocean of all good qualities, he consecrates his disciple. To do that, he first recites the five-amṛta mantra, oṃ āḥ hūṃ ho kṣaḥ, seven times and places a pill consisting of the five types of flesh (pañcapradīpa-guḍikā) into a pearl-oyster shell or a conch shell for the purification. After that, in order to consecrate the maṇḍala, the areas outside of the maṇḍala, and ritual objects, he practices a sādhana with meditative concentration (samādhi), confesses his sins, performs the bindu and subtle (sūkṣma) yogas, and meditates on the gnosis-cakra as a pledge maṇḍala (samaya-maṇḍala) in the kālacakra-maṇḍala. He further makes the offerings of flowers, incense, and the like outside the maṇḍala, which he views as the body of Kālacakra.48 Kālacakra’s pervasive, black mind-vajra is in the east, in accordance with the purification of the wind element. In the north is his white body-vajra, in accordance with the purification of the water element. His red speech-vajra is in the south, in accordance with purification of the fire element; and his yellow gnosis-vajra is in the west, in accordance with purification of the earth element. A division of the maṇḍala ground also accords with Kālacakra’s four faces, which correspond to the purification of the rāhu, the sun, the moon, and the kālāgni. The deities representing the four purified elements are designated in the maṇḍala with their seed syllables—i, , u, and —referred to as their origins (yoni) and as the nature of the four purified psychophysical aggregates: the mental formations (saṃskāra), feelings (vedanā), discernment (saṃjñā), and form (rūpa). Likewise, the syllable a is understood to be the origin of the space element and to have the characteristic of the aggregate of consciousness (vijñānaskandha).49

After performing various mudrās and reciting the given sets of mantras, the vajra master makes offerings to the deities of the kālacakra-maṇḍala and generates the bodhicitta aspiration to achieve the mahāmudrā-siddhi for the sake of all sentient beings. Having done so, he is now ready to bestow initiation into the kālacakra-maṇḍala to his patron and disciples. At the completion of the initiation ritual, the vajra master offers a pair of delicate, thin, and attractive garments to the yoginīs, whom he appointed earlier as the protectresses of vases, and another set of garments, crowns, and so forth to his male disciples, whom he appointed as the guardians of the maṇḍala’s gates. Having dispersed the gaṇacakra, he performs a pūjā and holds a vajra and a vajra-bell. Facing Kālacakra at the eastern gate, he brings the gnostic being (jñānasattva) into his heart-cakra by means of a vajra-chain. Then, either with a leaf of a fig tree, his hand, or a vajra, he breaks the cakras and vajras at the outmost rim of the maṇḍala, along the path of a brahma lime. He then places a minute part of the powder on his hand and breaks the lotuses. In that way, he incrementally dismantles the maṇḍala. Having done so, he places all of the powder, together with a parasol, a chowrie, and a banner, on an elephant and carries them to a clean river that flows toward an ocean. There, he pours the powder into the river.50


We have seen here that the kālacakra-maṇḍala’s expressiveness, with all its representational references, functions as the means of a visual and ritual communication. It mirrors the tantra’s concept of the unitary reality that manifests in the diversity of our ordinary perceptions, and it expresses the tantra’s method of sublimating ordinary appearances. The kālacakra-maṇḍala functions as the means by which tantric practitioners not only imagine purifying their body, speech, and mind and becoming members of the integrated Kālacakra tantric family but also reach a certain degree of purification and social integration. The given sequence of the construction of the material and mental maṇḍalas charts the path of purification, which begins with the purification and transformation of the mind and ends with the purification of the body. The fact that the tantric practitioner must observe a material kālacakra-maṇḍala used in the rite of initiation before visualizing it in the next phase of practice indicates the importance of the ocular perception of the maṇḍala for the construction of a subtler mental perception. The kālacakra-maṇḍala’s efficacy in structuring the practitioner’s experience and inducing the desired states of consciousness is due in part to its communication through symbolic, non-discursive signs. We have also seen here the emphasis on the efficacy of the aesthetic features of a material maṇḍala in inducing desirable results or detrimental consequences to the material well-being and life of a person when the prescribed aesthetic standards are met or ignored. This perspective on the effects of the aesthetic features of the maṇḍala on the life of a person underscores the ontological status of such features as they are embedded in the maṇḍala as a material object.

Further Reading

  • Brauen, Martin. The Mandala: Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala, 1998.
  • Bryant, Barry. The Wheel of Time Sand Mandala. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.
  • Namgal Monks. Kalachakra. Edited by Laura Harrington. Rome: Tibet Domani, 1996.
  • Wallace, Vesna A. The Kālacakratantra. The Chapter on Sādhana, together with the Vimalaprabhā Commentary: A Study and Annotated Translation. New York: The American Institute of Buddhist Studies and Columbia University Center for Buddhist Studies, 2010.


  • 1. The Kālacakratantra, ch. 4, vv. 8–9 and the Vimalaprabhā. See Vimalaprabhā commentary on the verse. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā on Śrīlaghukālacakratantrarāja by Śrīmañjuśrīyaśas, Vol. 2, ed. Vrajavallabh Dwivedi and (S. S. Bahulkar, Rare Buddhist Series Texts Series, No. 12 (Sarnath, Varanasi: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1994), 155–156.

  • 2. The three Vehicles here are those of Śrāvakas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas.

  • 3. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 156–157.

  • 4. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 159–160.

  • 5. The ālīḍha posture is one in which the knee of the right leg is advanced and the left leg is retracted.

  • 6. The four classes of māras are skandhamāras, or the impure psychophysical aggregates; kleśamāras, or mental afflictions; mṛtyumāras, who hinder the maintenance of life; and devaputramāras, who belong to the desire-realm (kāmadhātu) and hinder one’s acts of virtue out of jealousy.

  • 7. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 151, 157, 159.

  • 8. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 160.

  • 9. The moment of the sun’s rising into a zodiacal sign or the sun’s zodiacal signs.

  • 10. The Kālacakratantra, Ch. 4, v. 2 and the Vimalaprabhā commentary on the verse. See the Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 150–151.

  • 11. The pratyālīḍha posture is a standing posture in which the left foot is advanced and the right foot is drawn back.

  • 12. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 160–161.

  • 13. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 161–162.

  • 14. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 162–1633.

  • 15. Mental formations (saṃskārāṅga) are said to arise in the second month of gestation, consciousness (vijñānāṅga) in the third month, and the form (rūpāṅga) in the fourth month. See Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, commentary on Ch. 4, v. 29, p. 166.

  • 16. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 163–164.

  • 17. The Kālacakratantra, Ch. 4, v. 48 and the Vimalaprabhā commentary on the verse. See Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 175–176.

  • 18. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 2: pātanaṃ vajrasūtrāṇāṃ rajaso ‘pi nipātanam| na kuryāt mantratattvena kurvato bodhi durlabhaḥ||

  • 19. See Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, Ch. 3 , p. 4: daśatattvaparijñātā maṇḍalālekhakarmavit.

  • 20. Caitra is the second month of the spring. In the month of Caitra, the full moon stands in the Citra constellation.

  • 21. The Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 8–10.

  • 22. One cubit (hasta) corresponds to about 18 inches.

  • 23. The Kālacakratantra, Ch. 4, vs. 8–9 and the Vimalaprabhā. See Vimalaprabhā commentary on the verse. The Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 19.

  • 24. Acacia Catechu; and The Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 21–28.

  • 25. Vrajavallabh, Dwivedi, and S. S. Bahulkar, Rare Buddhist Series Texts Series, No. 12 (Sarnath, Varanasi: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1994), 29.

  • 26. Kālacakratantra, Ch. 3, v. 31, line d, sattvānāṃ mokṣahetor amukamapi vibho maṇḍalaṃ lekhayāmi|| See Vimalaprabhā commentary on the verse. The Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 30.

  • 27. Vimalaprabhā commentary on the verse. The Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 31.

  • 28. The Kālacakratantra, Ch. 4, vs. 8–9 and the Vimalaprabhā. See Vimalaprabhā commentary on the verse. The Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 36–37.

  • 29. A sacred thread worn by a brāhmaṇa over the shoulder.

  • 30. Vimalaprabhā commentary on the verse. The Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 31–43.

  • 31. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 44.

  • 32. Mimusops Elengi.

  • 33. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 46–49.

  • 34. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 49–50.

  • 35. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 51–52.

  • 36. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 52–53.

  • 37. A barleycorn is a unit of measure of length, nearly equal to a third of an inch or to one-sixth or one-eighth of a fingerbreadth (aṅgulā), based on the length of a grain of barley.

  • 38. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 54.

  • 39. The Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 53–54.

  • 40. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 54.

  • 41. yathā bāhye tathā dehe yathā dehe tathāpare| trividhaṃ maṇḍalaṃ jñātvā ācāryo maṇḍalaṃ likhet|| The verse is cited in the Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 57.

  • 42. A hasta (“forearm”) is a unit of the measure of length, a length from the elbow till the tip of the middle finger. (Erase this footnote)

  • 43. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 55–56.

  • 44. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 56–57.

  • 45. For a detailed exposition of the seed syllables and symbols of the mind, speech, and body maṇḍalas, see Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 58–69.

  • 46. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 70.

  • 47. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 77.

  • 48. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 77–78.

  • 49. Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 79–80.

  • 50. Kālacakratantra, Ch. 3, vs. 201–202 and the Vimalaprabhā. See Vimalaprabhāṭīkā of Kalkin Śrīpuṇḍarīkā, 145–146.