Art and Religion
Art is many times involved with religious practices and ceremonies. Much art which is related to a type of religion uses symbolic images which pertain to the belief. A great deal of this art is used primarily as decoration. It is also used to exalt that which is being praised, and it is attempted to move the viewer or believer in some way. Art can be used to tell a story of history or simply to imply the power of what is being praised. There seem to be few religious practices which actually incorporate the art itself with the ceremony or ritual that is taking place. However, this does not mean that there exist no forms of practice which do incorporate art into the ritual. One way in which art is used as an integral part of the actual religious practice is through the Tibetan Buddhist rituals involved with meditation. The art which is used as a part of this practice is called the mandala.
A mandala is a painted fabric of some sort which contains specifically arranged images. These images are representative of gods or goddesses, and many times symbolize the Buddhist conception of the universe. There seem to be a few different definitions of what a mandala is. Translated from Sanskrit a mandala means "to possess the essence." It is also said to mean "circle," and is also called a mystical diagram, or a magic circle. The mandala is an essential part of certain tantric rituals and is a means of meditation. The sadhakas, or Buddhist monks, which practice this technique of meditation use rice powder, cinnabar, sesamum seeds, or colored sand to trace the design on the mandala, which is positioned on a table of some sort to allow it to be on a horizontal plane. The intricate process of tracing the drawings with rice serves as an aid to the action of ritual visualization, unique to but an intricate part of the tantric meditation of Tibetan Buddhist practice.
In tantric Buddhism, ritual action is an important means of meditation. Many rituals, in their own abstraction, involve the gratification of the senses. In this sect, religious art as well as music are significant in aiding enlightenment. The mandala is an example of art which is used in conjunction with these rituals. The mandala is a cosmogram. Within this cosmogram, there are two separate entities to be found. These come from the different interpretation style one may put into it. If the mandala is observed as a map of the microcosm, of man himself, the deities involved in the images are perceived symbolically. One example of symbolism in this case is personifying emotions. If the interpretation made is macrocosmically, then the deities are conceived in a mythological way. Through the practice of meditation these deities are visualized and identified. In order to achieve the ultimate goal of escaping the round of birth...