The Meaning of the Mandara (also “Mandala”)
In Shingon Buddhism, the Six Elements constitute the universe. These Six Elements have two aspects, or dimensions, which, cannot be separated. The first five are the material of the universe, and the last one represents the spiritual side, or consciousness.
It is also interesting to listen to a recent lecture by Dr. Kimiaki Tanaka about the origins of the Japanese two-world Mandala at the Center of Buddhist Studies from London’s SOAS University (Nakamura Hajime Eastern Institute):
When studying the phenomenal, the Mandara is used because, symbolically speaking, everything in the universe is contained within the Mandara. The Mandara is a visual representation of the first Five Elements and the activity of the Three Secrets; and everything finds its place within it. The theory of the Mandara teaches that the Universe is really the form of Mahavairocana (Dainichi Nyorai), the One Reality, and reflects his virtues and powers.
The Garbhadhatu Mandara / Taizo-kai Mandara/ Matrix Mandara (also “Mandala”)
This Mandara represents the enlightened universe from the standpoint of infinite compassion. It is often referred to as the “Womb Mandara”. The metaphor is drawn from the way a mother enfolds and nurtures a child in her womb, so the energy of compassion nurtures and protects one’s innate enlightenment.
The additional metaphor of a lotus flower is also used, for the lotus seed is the seed of enlightenment in potential form and is nurtured and encouraged to grow by compassion. It’s flowering is skillful means. This Mandara can be looked upon as that which signifies the gradual growth spiritually towards Buddhahood.
This Mandara embodies the Vajra-Wisdom that illuminates the universe. Kongo is the word used to refer to that which is adamantine, diamond-like; in other words imperishable in nature. This constitutes the contents of the universe as a unified field of infinitely discriminating wisdom, and concentrates all beings and forms into one through the combined five wisdom’s.
This Mandara reflects the development of wisdom and knowledge within one, to the refined stage where it eliminates all illusions, passions, and defilement. It represents the infinite wisdom of Mahavairocana, that lies within each one of us.