A mandala is a sacred, consecrated space where no obstacles, impurities or distracting influences exist. Buddhists use mandalas to aid them in meditation and visualization. "All mandalas," writes Tibetologist Detlef Lauf, "originate from the seed-syllables, or bija-mantras , of the deities. During meditation upon these mantras , an elemental radiance of light develops, from which comes the image of the Buddhas."
Mandalas are rich in symbolism. The series of circles on the periphery of a mandala symbolizes protection from external influences. The outermost circle of flames signifies knowledge that destroys ignorance or symbolizes the phenomenal world the devotee abandons as he enters the mandala. The flames can also represent the Mountain of Fire that prohibits the uninitiated from receiving the mysteries. The ring of lotus petals inside the circle of fire signifies the spiritual world, spiritual rebirth, the unfolding of spiritual vision, or the purity of heart that is necessary for effective meditation. The central part of a mandala (signified by the square inside the circle) represents a palace or temple with four gates at the four cardinal points. Outside the palace walls are propitious and victorious symbols.
The four gates of the palace lead to the innermost circle, the focus of the mandala. "Mandalas appear as circles around a holy center," write authors Blanche Olschak and Geshé Thupten Wangyal. "These depictions are the ground plan of the visionary heavenly abodes, at whose center is manifested the holy power that is to be invoked. The entire mandala is a fortress built around this Buddha-force." In his meditation the disciple circles the focus at the center of the mandala until he can finally integrate with that powerful nucleus. The disciple uses the mandala to find its elements within himself.