What You Will Learn in Each Lesson
The Wheel of Life and the Cycle of Confusion
In a mandala, everything in the cosmos is included and nothing is left out. That all-encompassing quality is what gives us the opportunity to transmute confusion into wisdom. But before that transmutation can take place, we must go into our bewilderment completely and thoroughly. We must understand the subtle thread of struggle that runs through every aspect of our lives. In this lesson, we’ll learn how our ego hijacks our innate intelligence and keeps us stuck in a cycle of misperception.
The Iconography of the Mandala
The charnel ground is an environment where the energy is raw, challenging, colorful, and lively—despite being surrounded by death and decay. Why would such a place be considered the ultimate practice ground? In order to find enlightenment, we have to look into the intensity and immediacy of our experience as it is. Where we usually put our experience through a filter of self-confirmation, the charnel ground doesn’t give us that leeway. It requires us to face the potency of the areas of our life that we usually avoid. In this unforgiving yet precious landscape, we build the mandala.
The Five Buddha-Families
In every moment, we have access to two mandalas at once: a samsaric one where we are suffering and a nirvanic one where we are liberated. The inseparability of these two mandalas teaches us that there is nowhere to get away from or leave to, and nothing to gain or get rid of. The ordinary elements of existence contain both the questions and the answers. The ingredients for awakening are already here.
The Outer Mandala and the Nature of Perception
The notion of the outer mandala is that we create our world through our projections. A room of a hundred people contains a hundred different worlds. We are blind to the personal nature of our projections, and we make them solid out of fear of change, of other viewpoints, and of uncertainty. Paradoxically, that solidification feeds the fear it seeks to avoid! Only through the practice of shamatha-vipashyana can we loosen our grasp on our projections and refresh the mind, allowing it to dissolve into greater vastness.
The Inner Mandala and the Experience of Embodiment
Throughout our daily lives, energies arise in our bodies and minds. Usually, we don’t know what to do with them; we react by spewing our conflicted emotions into the environment and onto other people. In these moments, our sense of duality and ego entrapment is most visible. But what if we could release the energies when we experience them, instead of staking our claim in them or feeling we need to react? The teachings of the inner mandala show that this is how we glimpse wisdom, in its variety of guises. This is how we begin to view the play of energies in our life as sacred.
The Secret Mandala and the Recognition of Sacredness
The secret mandala is realized when we abandon hesitation and connect fully with every detail of our lives. When that happens, we no longer see our world as limited, broken, or fearful. When we are no longer holding anything back, our heart is inseparable from that of the guru, and we discover sacred outlook: the view of reality as luminous, clear, complete, and whole.