Buddhist Arts-Culture
Mandala Architecture
Tracy Cochran
15/06/2012 04:46 (GMT+7)
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In Tibetan Buddhism, the mandala is a ritual instrument, much like a mantra, used to assist meditation and concentration. Throughout history, these pictorial temples--intricate, two-dimensional, multi-colored patterns of concentric circles, squares, and other shapes--have signified the human need for wholeness, order, and balance. But while many people of the West accept mandalas as representative of a cosmic force, few understand they are meant to be blueprints as well. Indeed, a Tantric Buddhist meditator studies a two-dimensional mandala like an architect, building up in his mind the image of a palace encompassing the sacred principles of Buddhist philosophy.


Now, graduate students and faculty at Cornell University are bringing the three-dimensional palace of the mandala to life. Working with Tibetan Buddhist monk, Pema Losang Chogyen, the team has created, on the computer, a gorgeous geometric palace that blooms from a two-dimensional sand mandala like a flower in a time-lapse film. "We write software that makes synthetic images, enabling us to visualize how new buildings look before they are build," explains senior research staff member James Ferwerda.

Toward that end, Ferwerda explains, "we model the process of light reflection. We create a geometric model, then we study the materials that go into the building, exactly the way physicists and chemists analyze material. Then we simulate the way light reflects and refracts and is transferred by these materials, and that's how we make an image." For instance, a cornice of intricately sculptured gold glints as though struck by the sun, jewels glow, and ornate silken banners hang heavy around the crown of the palace.

To some, the realism is richly ironic since mandalas are meant to depict the ultimate Buddhist truth that nothing has inherent existence. But Chogyen believes the effort at Cornell may be the first of many computer graphics projects to be undertaken with Buddhists.

Already the computer graphics department at Cornell has established a scholarship for Tibetans. And to whet appetites for the rest of us, the Cornell mandala is now even available on videotape from Snow Lion Publications of Ithaca, New York.

PHOTO: Computer graphics of the mandala

Omni, Vol.16 No.11 May 1994,P.79
Copyright by Omni

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