Offering Mandala

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The Middle Way pursues the embodiment of wisdom and compassion. The Great Vehicle of these attainments is parsed as a progression toward the fruition of altruistic intent and the transformation of all sentient beings such that consensus reality ultimately dissolves into unwavering non-conceptual blissful awareness: Dzogchen. The Great Perfection.

A tall order, indeed.

Wisdom is a reference to emptiness. To perceive the true nature of phenomena is called pure perception. A Buddha field is a pure realm manifested as a product of pure perception. Such a field would include everything we see, think or know, everything that happens ‘to’ us, everything we ‘have’ or “do.”

From the Vajrayana perspective…the understanding of Buddha fields is a deeper one. The root of the Vajrayana is “pure vision,” or the perception of the perfect purity of all phenomena. To enact this purity of perception, we do not perceive the place where we are now as just an ordinary place; we imagine it to be a celestial Buddha field.”     — Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche

By offering everything we have to the spiritual home of Buddha, we are affirming it is all Maya, an illusory projection dissolving under the scrutiny of pure vision.

In other words, in Vajrayana, the celestial Buddha field is here & now in this moment. It encompasses everything in every instant. It is our everyday experience illuminated by the Dzogchen vision. The deliberate creation of detailed visualizations to further transformative experience is called Guru Yoga, a cornerstone of Vajrayana practice. Silly rhetorical questions like “where is a Buddha field to be found?” or “how would we know?” carry little weight against the benefits of engaging directly in a personal practice of developing pure vision, creating your own Buddha field, also realizing that the essence nature of everyday experience is already pure and exists whether we deliberately create it or not. 

The offering of mandala is a related practice dating back to the origins of Buddhism whose rituals, detailed in the Kalachakra Tantra, are intended to accumulate personal merit and thus ultimately escape cyclic existence and gain entry into the pure vision of a Buddha realm. The outer form of this practice employs a physical representation of the universe, all its worlds and continents. The universe we know as well as incalculable other universes we don’t know are considered pure lands to be offered.

A more internal intent of the mandala-offering practice is to self-purify by offering all possessions, all property, including one’s pleasant and unpleasant experience, one’s very body, to the pure realm of the Buddha field with a clear altruistic intent.

By the virtue of offering to you… visualized before me,
This mandala…resplendent with flowers,
– my body, wealth and enjoyments–
Adorned with Mount Meru and the four continents,
As well as the sun and the moon,
Without any sense of loss, I offer this collection.
May all sentient beings enjoy this perfect realm….

This shift in perception to recognizing our entire existence is suspended within an omnipresent projection of Buddha-mind, pure and transparent in quality and depth, momentarily breaks the grasp and completely overthrows our limited habitual view. We come into an immediate personal encounter with its illusory nature, which is telling us we don’t truly “have” anything at all.

Isn’t that the whole point of the mandala offering–to give up everything for the sake of realizing we never had anything in the first place?

Seeing everything arising as a Buddha realm renders “being” and “doing” as flawed constructions, relying as they do upon a dualistic view imputing actions and possessions with intrinsic substance. Being, since it implies the existence of non-being, is already an objectification. Doing implies the existence of a doer. The very nature of these references to something that cannot be rationalized or categorized holds us in the sway of illusion. Maya creates the language and language reinforces the illusion that there is any material reality whatsoever to objects, possessions or thought, including every conception about thought, including the very notion of Maya itself!

And yet, at the same time, we live in a world of consciousness and intent. The Two Truths are said to be completely interdependent, inseparable, and timeless, yet even these categorizations are also illusory. The Two Truths, we should recall, convenient though they may be, are neither Two nor “True.” We might even call them the Two Lies, or better yet, The One Lie.

Things, material realities, states of consciousness, arise and cease in every instant. Phenomena are both material and non-material in nature in each moment, like water at precisely 32F—neither solid nor liquid. Arising from a constant and changeless ground, they simultaneously exist and do not exist. They do not conform to any intellectual description. Nor can they be reified as constant states such as is light when we are (or are not) looking. The essence of phenomena is beyond conception, always empty. Materiality exists as an energetic manifestation of emptiness simultaneously and constantly, timelessly, without beginning or end.

Rendering everything–and it must be everything–to a Buddha realm potentially opens the pure vision of a Bodhisattva, the fruition of the Middle Way, the non-binary view in poetic dance, always becoming its opposite, destroying, and reinventing itself continuously in every moment, cause melting into effect and effect into cause.

The one in whom this altruistic intent becomes stabilized is no longer lost in the material view of contaminated Maya, resting instead in a radical openness and supreme unity, yet also finding a bottomless well of compassion for those who do.

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