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This mandala is an accurate copy of a thangka from the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, and it shows Shakyamuni Buddha and his two disciples on the central dais, with the Sixteen Arhats in the sixteen-petal lotus circle that surrounds it. The Arhats two attendants appear in the palace's lower corners, and the Great Guardian Kings occupy each of the four gateways. The three protection wheels of the lotus-womb, vajra-fence, and fire-mountain encircle the square structure of the palace, and the wide extra circle that depicts an ocean with inhabited continents represents the divine abodes of the Sixteen Arhats and their retinues. Three auspicious trinities of deities and lineage holders appear in the upper sky, while in the lower left and right corners are the two protectors, orange Jambhala and white Acala.
This beautiful mandala is an accurate copy of a thangka from the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, and it depicts an assembly of the Buddha and his disciples, the Sixteen Arhats with their two attendants, and the 'Four Guardian Kings'. Seated upon a lion-throne on the central dais of the mandala is Shakyamuni Buddha, who is accompanied by his two main disciples, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana, who stand on either side of the Buddha holding the attributes of a blue alms-bowl and an iron monk's staff (Skt. khakkhara). Encircling the central dais is a lotus-circle of sixteen petals, upon which appear each of the Sixteen Arhats listed below. The clockwise sequence of these Arhats begins in the southwest (upper left) corner with:
1. Angaja (Tib: Yan-lag-byung), who appears in the southwest holding a yak-tail flywhisk in his left hand. Angaja is usually represented as an elderly Arhat with receding white hair and long drooping eyebrows, who bears the attributes of a white yak-tail flywhisk and an incense burner.
2. Ajita (Tib: Ma-pham-pa), who sits with his hands resting in his lap in dhyana-mudra. Ajita is usually depicted in his hermit's cave, serenely seated in meditation with his hands folded upon his lap. His monk's robes are often wrapped around his shoulders, with one end of the robe covering the crown of his head.
3. Vanavasin (Tib: Nags-na-gnas), who appears in the west (top) holding a yak-tail flywhisk in his left hand. Vanavasin is often depicted in a hermit's hut made of leaves and bamboo, and he usually holds a white yak-tail flywhisk in his left hand.
4. Kalika (Tib: Dus-ldan; Nag-po-pa), who makes the abhaya-mudra of protection with his right hand. Kalika is usually represented as a young Arhat seated upon a cushioned throne, who holds a golden earring in each hand.
5. Vajriputra (Tib: rDo-rje-mo'i -bu), who appears in the northwest holding a yak-tail flywhisk in his left hand. Vajriputra is usually represented as a young Arhat seated upon a cushioned throne or a rock formation. He commonly holds a white yak-tail flywhisk in his left hand, and makes the gesture of dispelling fear with his right hand.
6. Bhadra (Tib: bZang-po), who makes the abhaya-mudra of protection with his right hand, while his left hand rests upon his lap. Bhadra is usually depicted as a young Arhat seated in meditation upon a mat or throne. His right hand is usually held before his heart in the gesture of teaching, whilst his left hand rests upon his lap in the gesture of meditation.
7. Kanakavatsa (Tib: gSer-be'u), who appears in the north (right) and holds a string of golden jewels in each of his two hands. Kanakavatsa may either be depicted as a young Arhat with dark hair, or as an elder with white hair, moustache and beard. He may be represented upon a water-borne lotus or a lotus leaf, and is frequently shown surrounded by dragons or nagas, who offer jewels and precious substances. His attribute is a golden string of wish-fulfilling jewels that he holds suspended between both hands.
8. Kanaka-Bharadvaja (Tib: Ba-ra-dhwa-dza gser-can), who sits with his hands resting in his lap in the dhyana-mudra of meditation. He is most commonly depicted as an elderly Arhat with white hair, eyebrows and moustache. He usually sits in the posture of meditation with both palms resting upon his lap in dhyana-mudra. The upper fold of his robe may also cover the crown of his head as a protection against the sun's heat.
9. Bakula (Tib: Ba-ku-la), who appears in the northeast with his right hand making the teaching gesture, and his left hand resting upon his lap. Bakula's attribute is a jewel-spitting mongoose (nakula), which he commonly holds with both hands - frequently with his left hand supporting the mongoose and his right hand either stroking or squeezing it.
10. Rahula (Tib: sGra-can-dzin), who makes the abhaya-mudra of protection with his right hand, while his left hand rests upon his lap. Rahula's attribute is a jeweled golden crown, which he commonly holds with both hands in front of his heart. This precious diadem was miraculously produced from the many jeweled offerings that the supreme gods of the 'thirty-three heavens' (Skt. trayastrimsa) had bestowed upon him for teaching in their realm.
11. Cudapanthaka (Tib: Lam-phran-bstan), who appears in the east (bottom) with his two hands resting upon his lap in the dhyana-mudra of meditation. He is most commonly depicted seated in meditation with his hands resting in his lap in dhyana-mudra. He may be represented as a young or elderly Arhat, and frequently is depicted seated before his cave on the rocky summit of Vulture's Peak.
12. Pindola-Bharadvaja (Tib: Bha-ra dhwa-dza bSod-snoms-len), who makes the abhaya-mudra of protection with his right hand, while his left hand holds a blue alms-bowl in his lap. He may be represented as a young or middle-aged Arhat, and is usually shown in the company of attendant monks and lay disciples. His two attributes are an alms-bowl and a sacred text.
13. Panthaka (Tib: Lam-bstan), who appears in the southeast with his right hand resting upon his lap, and his left hand making the abhaya-mudra of protection. He is commonly represented as a middle-aged or white-haired Arhat seated upon a throne, or amongst the clouds of the 'thirty-three' heavens. His usual attribute is a book that he holds in the palm of his left hand.
14. Nagasena (Tib: kLu'i-sde), who holds an iron monk's staff with his left hand, and makes the abhaya-mudra of protection with his right hand. He is most commonly depicted as a young or middle-aged Arhat seated upon a throne or rock promontory. Nagasena's attributes are a water flask (kundika) and an iron monk's staff (khakkhara), which he holds in his right and left hands respectively.
15. Gopaka (Tib: sBed-byed), who appears in the south (left) holding a book in his left hand, and making the abhaya-mudra of protection with his right hand. Gopaka's attribute is a book, which is usually held in both of his hands - with his left palm holding the book, and the fingers of his right hand resting lightly on its cover.
16. Abheda (Tib: Mi-phyed-pa), who makes the abhaya-mudra of protection with his right hand. Abheda is usually represented as a young or middle-aged Arhat who holds the attribute of an enlightenment stupa, which he invariably holds at the level of his heart with both hands.
Surrounding the sixteen-petal lotus of the Arhats is a blue vajra-ring that represents the raised dais of this lotus-circle. Beyond this ring are the square walls of the mandala palace with its four directional gateways, and its floor divided into four quadrants that are adorned with golden lotus roundels and coloured: white in the east (bottom), yellow in the south (left), red in the west (top), and green in the north (left).
In the southeast corner and northeast corner of the square interior are the Arhats two attendants, Hvashang (lower left), and Upasaka Dharmatala (lower right). Hvashang, the 'Chinese Monk', was once sent to India by the Tang Emperor of China to invite Shakyamuni Buddha to his court, but as the Buddha had already passed into nirvana he invited the Sixteen Arhats instead. Hvashang appears here wearing loose brocade robes and holding a blue jewel and a crystal rosary in his right and left hands. He is also often depicted as a jovial and fat-bellied monk, with several small children playing and climbing upon his robust seated form. The 'lay disciple' Upasaka Dharmatala (Tib. Chos-nyid) appears in his traditional silk robes and walking posture, with a stack of religious texts strapped to his back in a bamboo frame, a parasol above his head, and his tiger companion at his right side. These two attendants essentially represent the dissemination of the early Theravada Buddhist 'Cult of the Arhats' from India to China, where they are known as 'Lohans'. Traditionally the Arhats and their attendants may be artistically represented in either the 'Indian or Chinese Style'.
Guarding the four gateways of the mandala are the 'Four Great Kings', who are all 'brave, radiant and shining', with two piercing eyes and semi-wrathful expressions. They all wear chain-mail armor, jeweled ornaments, silk garments, felt boots, and are enthroned upon tiger-skins or leopard-skins and silk cushions. In the east (bottom) is Dhritarashtra (Tib. Yul-'khor-srung), who is white in colour, wears a helmet, and plays upon a lute. In the south (left) is Virudhaka (Tib. 'Phags-skyes-po), who is deep blue in colour, wears a five-jewel crown, and holds an iron sword with his two hands. In the west (top) is Virupaksha (Tib. Mig-mi-bzang), who is ruby-red in colour, wears a five-jewel crown, and holds a serpent-noose in his right hand and a small white stupa in his left hand. In the north (right) is Vaishravana (Tib. rNam-thos-sras), who is golden-yellow in colour, wears a five-jewel crown, and holds a victory-banner in his right hand and a treasure-disgorging mongoose in his left hand.
The walls of the palace are composed of five layers of coloured light, which are respectively blue, green, red, yellow and white from the inside out, so that the walls appear blue on the inside and white on the outside of the palace. Outside of the walls is a red platform decorated with golden dragons that runs around the four walls, and beyond this are four square linear sections that represent the structure of the palace's upper walls and roof. The first is a golden beam that runs along the top of the walls, and is decorated with geometric designs that represent the five elements. The second is a dark-blue section adorned with loops of golden jewels, representing the jeweled 'ventilation-lattice' and the loops of hanging jewels at the top of the walls. The third appears as a green frieze with golden designs on it, representing the cantilevers, rainspouts, and the hanging roof ornaments of a mirror, bell and yak-tail. The fourth is a white frieze of lotus petals, which represents the lotus parapet that runs right around the edge of the mandala's flat roof.
The four gateways of this mandala are relatively simple in design, with the vertical sections representing the pillars that support the doors and outer archways, and the four horizontal sections representing the lintels and beams above these archways. The ornate and gabled golden roof above each of the four gateways is decorated with the Buddhist emblem of a golden eight-spoke wheel flanked by two deer, and two silk parasols. A series of three golden treasure vases are shown upon each symmetrical side of the roof, with the first one bearing a wish-granting tree, and the other two bearing victory-banners.
Outside of the square mandala palace are its circular green grounds that are decorated with golden lotus roundels, and beyond this is the 'lotus-womb' protection wheel or circle. This wheel consists of sixty-four variegated lotus petals, which represents the purification that an initiate must undergo in order to enter within the mandala palace.
Outside of this is the circular expanse of an ocean with various islands and continents appearing within it, some capped with clouds, others bearing groves of trees, gardens, palaces, temples, pavilions and lotus pools. These places represent the sacred abodes of the Sixteen Arhats and their retinues of disciples, many of which are located across India and Central Asia, while others are located in different world-systems or heavenly realms.
The next protection wheel is fashioned as a series of sixteen golden vajras encircling a narrow green ring that represents the element of wind or air. These vajras are interspaced by circular 'vajra-symbols', with an undulating line known as the 'vajra-thread' connecting them. This wheel is known as the 'vajra-fence and canopy', which manifests as an impenetrable ring and hemispherical dome of interlocking vajras that covers the entire mandala palace. This wheel symbolizes that one's tantric vows and commitments must be upheld in order to enter the mandala palace.
The third protection wheel is fashioned from thirty-five banks of coloured flames that circle in a clockwise direction. This circle is known as the 'mountain of fire', and also forms a vast hemispherical dome of fire over the entire mandala, which represents that no impurities can possibly enter within. These three protection wheels also symbolically protect the mandala palace from the three great forces of nature that can ultimately destroy all world systems, floods (lotus-womb), earthquakes (vajra-fence), and conflagration (fire-mountain).
Amidst the clouds at the top centre of the painting is the golden-yellow bodhisattva Maitreya, with Atisha Dipankara (980-1054) to the left, and Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) to the right. In the upper left corner is the long-life trinity of red Amitayus (top), White Tara (left), and Ushnishavijaya (right). And in the upper right corner is the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso (1708-1757), who is flanked by two disciples.
In the lower left corner is a wrathful form of the yellow wealth god Kubera, who has three eyes, wears divine silks and jewel ornaments, and holds a flowering branch of an ashoka tree in his right hand and a precious jewel in his left hand. In the lower right corner is the wrathful form of White Acala, who has three eyes, wears jewel ornaments and a tiger-skin loincloth, and leans towards the right with the sole of his right foot and his left knee resting upon the sun disc of his lotus. With his right hand he holds aloft a blazing wisdom-sword, and with his left hand he makes the threatening tarjani gesture as he holds a rope-snare that is looped twice around his palm.
In the bottom centre is a lotus-lake with a central lotus bearing a golden bowl that contains the five sensory objects: a mirror (sight), cymbals (sound), a perfume-filled conch (smell), fruit (taste), and silk (touch). Along the bottom of the painting are stacked jewels and the seven emblems of a chakravartin or 'universal monarch'.
© text by Robert Beer