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A modern mandala offering

  • Explanation this merit accumulating practice
  • A contemporary version of the mandala offering prayer

At the Thursday class we were talking about testing the scriptures and what makes them authoritative. And we talked about the structure of the universe and that brought us to talking about the mandala and then the mandala offering. And I had said at that time that somebody had written kind of a modern mandala offering. Somebody found the book that it’s in and I thought I would read it to you. But before I read the new, modern–I don’t know if it’s improved or not–but new and modern version.

The reason we make the mandala offering is to create merit and to develop a mind that takes delight in giving. The whole purpose of it is to think of everything in our entire world—our body, our friends, our relatives, everything we hold dear and precious, everything we could possibly possess, everything that we want even though we can’t possibly possess it, the whole shish kebab—and we take all of that and we offer it to the Buddha. The idea is to offer it without any sense of hesitancy, without any sense of “if I give it I won’t have it.” You know how that mind comes up. Sometimes we want to give even something very simple to somebody, and the thought comes up, “Oh, but what happens if I need it later?” Or it’s like the last aspirin in the bottle. “But if I give it to so-and-so who has a headache what happens if I get a headache later on today? I’ve got to hold onto it.” Or maybe you collect boxes in your basement. i stayed with somebody once, whole basement filled with boxes. (I see a few people are squirming. [laughter]) You may have other things that you cherish that you hold onto. Things that other people look at and go, “Hmm?” But for us they’re just so precious. Or things we could possibly have, that we’re dreaming of having one day. Or people we’re very attached to that we don’t want to be separated from, and we think we need to be with them. They’re better off being with me than being with anybody else. And we offer them all to the Buddha, too, because actually it’s better if they’re with the Buddha, isn’t it? The Buddha can guide them to enlightenment. I’m not sure what we guide them to. But it’s a way of really overcoming our attachment to things.

In the traditional version you create Mount Meru—the king of mountains—in the center. And the four continents, and the eight sub-continents, and the seven rings of mountains with the seas between them, and all the different special offerings and goddesses, and so forth. A lot of that has symbolism according to Indian culture. Dagyab Rinpoche wrote a book about symbology and talked about some of these things and what they symbolize and why we offer them. Many times with these different things, like the different precious objects that belong to a universal monarch, we offer those as a way of creating the circumstances for us, when we’re bodhisattvas, to have all the external help we need to be able to be of great benefit to sentient beings. When you’re a bodhisattva and you want to benefit, you need people and things to help you. Otherwise you’re kind of one person going there, “I want to do this and that and that and I can’t do it all.” So a lot of it has deep symbology. So I think it’s good to keep chanting the traditional version and doing the mandala offering. When you’re doing it as part of your ngondro practice, your preliminary practice where you do 100,000 of them and you’re offering again and again, “My universe I offer, and I offer my universe again, and I offer my universe again,” and you do a whole session of just giving, giving, giving, it really has quite a profound effect on your mind, and it changes how you feel inside.

I wanted to read you this one because it might show you another way to think, even though you might be reciting the old one, to think in the way of this new one. And we might choose to kind of rewrite it even again. I mean, I’ve already changed one word in it. And I haven’t really sat down and looked at it seriously.

We start out:

Om vajra bhumi ah hum

This is the basic open ground, the ground of my being

So instead of just the ground of the world, the ground of my being.

Om vajra rekhe ah hum

Here is the circle of my totality
This is the center of my totality, the access mundi.
This is the environment in which I live
These are the oceans and mountains, the lakes and rivers, the rocks and trees

These are the beautiful places I treasure
The plants and flowers
The wildlife
These are the cities and towns that I live and work in
Their value and downfall

These are the people I live among and work among
They are my friends and acquaintances
Those I depend upon
These are the people I struggle with
The objects of my aversion and confusion

Here is my work, my livelihood, my action in the world
This is my home, my garden, and my possessions
The things I treasure and value
And the objects of attachment

These are my loved ones, my family, my private life
This is the body I inhabit in this life
These are my sense pleasures
The food, the music, the beauty I value

These are my dreams, my ambitions, my plans
These are all those things I wish for in my life
That may or may not come to pass

These are my qualities, my talents, and my gifts
This is the knowledge and learning I have gained in my life
These are my habits, my emotional problems, my wounds
This is the core of my identity
That I hold onto as real

This is the spiritual journey I am on
These are the qualities and realizations I aspire to
These are the obstacles and difficulties on the path
These are the essential ingredients of my awakening

This is the treasure of my buddha potential
This symbolizes my awakening
My victory over the confusion and suffering of myself
And the confusion and suffering of all sentient beings

I offer this mandala of my essential totality
And offer my being to all the buddhas
For the welfare of all sentient beings
Please bestow your inspiration
All those objects of my mind’s three poisons
Coveted friend, foe, and stranger
Body, wealth, worldly pleasures
Without a feeling of loss, I offer
Receive them please
And free all beings from their bondage1

idam guru ratna mandala-kam nir-yatayami

It’s nice, isn’t it? To think in this way, to go through everything in our lives, without holding back anything. Even our dreams, our reputation. The whole thing. And offer it. Even our good qualities. Even our values, so we don’t get attached and dogmatic about them. We offer them. Even the people we can’t stand, the things we can’t stand. We offer those. Not to get rid of them but as a way of saying to the Buddha, “I have a problem with this. And these people I have problems with, they’re going to be better off under your domain than under mine. So I offer them to you.” And I offer my problems. I’m not going to cling to them and make an identity out of them. It’s quite a nice way of really opening ourselves up. And especially when we feel stuck in our practice, in our lamrim we feel like okay I’m going through it but something’s lacking some juice. Then it’s very good at that time to focus on purification practices and accumulation of merit practices, because these are the things that remove obstacles from our mind and enrich our mind with positive energy or merit. And then that makes our lamrim meditations much more effective. This is one of the practices of accumulation of merit, through offering our universe.

  1. This contemporary version of the mandala offering prayer is by Rob Preece from his book Preparing For Tantra: Creating the Psychological Ground For Practice

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.