Multimedia Buddhist Art Gallery



The bodhisattva of perfect compassion who takes a variety of forms, and (in Sino-Japanese Buddhism, though not in Tibetan Buddhism) may be female, and may have eleven heads and a thousand arms. Always s/he “listens to the prayers of the world” (hence the Chinese and Japanese names Kuan (shih) yin and Kan (ze) on) and “always has his eyes open” (hence the Tibetan name Chenrezig) so as to be able to assist in any difficulty. As the servant of Amitabha Buddha (the Buddha of the Western Paradise), s/he has a representation of Amitabha in her/his crown, but, even when s/he has this feature, s/he sometimes appears as an independent figure. H.H. Dalai Lama is a Nirmanakaya (Tibetan: tulku) of Avalokiteshvara.



A bodhisattva is a being who is on the way to enlightment and (in Mahayana Buddhism) who has made a formal resolve to liberate all sentient beings (Sanskrit: sattvas). All bodhisattvas have a peaceful manifestation and a powerful (often called wrathful) manifestation which they use in different situations to bring about the liberation of all beings. Mahakala is the powerful form of Avalokiteshvara in which s/he manifests the passions in their pure form (i.e. s/he manifests samsara as nirvana).

The Wheel of Existence

Bhavachakra - The Wheel of Existence

The wheel of existence (bhavachakra) is a visual aid teaching the nature of cyclic existence (samsara). At the hub of the wheel are three animals, representing the three poisons of attachment, aversion, and confusion, because of which the wheel of existence is kept in motion. The next circle out from the hub illustrates the paths of deterioration and improvement. On the viewer’s right, humans, tied to each other by their defilements, are being dragged downwards by demons. On the left, other humans are moving upwards by practising the Dharma. Laypeople are towards the bottom of the segment and monks are in the upper portion. The next circle out is divided into six segments. Each segment illustrates one of the realms of rebirth. The devas or peaceful deities are in the top segment, as having the most pleasant rebirth, and the hell-beings, experiencing the most unpleasant rebirth, are in the bottom. Because of the variety of hells, only a few are pictured. Shown clockwise from the deva realm are the realms of the asuras (wrathful deities) and animals, and counterclockwise we see the realms of humans and pretas (hungry ghosts). Around the rim of the wheel are twelve segments with symbolic representations of the twelvefold cycle of interdependent arising beginning with avidya (ignorance) at the top and moving in a clockwise direction to jara-marana (aging and death) and so back to avidya. The entire wheel is held in the grip of a devouring ogre symbolizing that the experience of samsara is the experience of being eaten, that is, of decay and death. The ogre is crowned with five skulls symbolic of the skandhas. The ogre stands firmly rooted on a mountain, that is, on our constructed reality.


Kalachakra Mandala

The Wheel of Time Mandala
(Kalachakra Mandala)

Mandala has three meanings. The most common usage in English (and the one relevant to these images) is “palace of a deity.” There are major misunderstandings in the usage of the term in English. It is important to realize that these images are not mandalas themselves, but the plans for mandalas. The outer circle in the mandala is a two-dimensional representation of an actual sphere of interlocking vajras that protects the cubic palace of the deity. Nothing samsaric, that is, nothing connected with the wheel of existence, can penetrate this sphere and enter into a mandala. When a Tantric liturgy calls for the visualization of a mandala, the teacher communicates detailed descriptions about its form. This may include a plan of the mandala, which is hung on the wall of the shrine room. The student will be directed to inspect the plan minutely and commit it to memory, so that it can be used as an aid to seeing the three-dimensional reality. When the visualization has been done successfully, the mandala appears of itself (for, from the pure perspective, it is really there, it is not a (necessarily defiled) construct of the imagination) non-referentially, without regard to ordinary perceptions of space. It is neither in front of nor inside the practitioner, and has nothing to do with the size of the room in which the practice is being performed. The mandala is reality. The room is samsara. A consequence of the mandala being reality is that the practitioner is herself or himself the deity in the mandala. This phenomenon is called Deity Yoga, and is one of the most distinctive features of Tantra. It is an actualization in the body of the practitioner of the teaching of the non-duality of samsara and nirvana. If it is true, as Mahayana teaches, that my defiled being is non-dual with the undefiled being of the Buddhas, then, from pure perspective, I see that I am a Buddha. I actually see myself as fully enlightened, having no suffering and acting in the energy mode of spontaneity. If, for example, I am performing a sadhana of Avalokiteshvara, I see and know myself as Avalokiteshvara her/himself, adorned with all her/his glorious marks, signs, and ornaments. This is is called “pride of being a deity.” Deity Yoga works by my “acting as if” from the standpoint of the goal, rather than striving for attainment by moving along the path. Tantra is therefore called the Effect Vehicle, and it refers to other forms of Buddhism as the Cause Vehicle. The danger in this practice should be clear. I can only generate pride of being a deity if I am securely grounded both in the wisdom of emptiness, so that I do not see myself as inherently a deity and other beings as inherently not deities, and in the practice of compassion, so that I automatically use the enormous power of a deity for compassionate rather than selfish ends. If my wisdom or my compassion is deficient, the practice of deity yoga is actually harmful, since I will generate, not pride of being a deity, but pride of ego-grasping, binding me more closely to delusive samsaric reality.

Choose from the following thumbnails to see three traditional mandala paintings:
Mandala Painting 1
Painting 1
(145 K)
Mandala Painting 2
Painting 2
(86.4 K)
Mandala Painting 3
Painting 3
(106 K)


Chanting is a practice of ritual worship (puja) common to most Buddhist traditions, especially the Mahayana (including Zen and Tibetan). It is primarily a meditative practice involving the chanting of religious texts.

Tibetan monks chanting (385 K)
Excerpt from the sadhana of Yamantaka (882 K)
Excerpt from the sadhana of Mahakala (instrumental) (871 K)



If you would like to learn more about anything you find here, I highly recommend reading “The Vision of Buddhism: The Space Under the Tree” by Dr. Roger J. Corless Ph.D. (New York: Paragon House, 1989). This is by far the most accessible, informed, and thorough introductory work I have encountered on the Buddhist tradition and all of its aspects. Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Pure Land, Zen, Shinran, historical origins, mythology, philosophical tenets, and anything else imaginable are all presented clearly and understandably in this book.

Legal Note: The textual passages above are either direct quotations or paraphrasings from “The Vision of Buddhism: The Space Under the Tree”. I have received verbal persmission from the author to reproduce these excerpts here. The images and sounds on this page have been collected from various locations on the Internet. They are not my own, and I hold no legal rights to them. I have mirrored them here in a non-commercial effort to make them more available to the Internet community for personal viewing only. As far as I know, this page and its contents are not in violation of any copyright laws or other restrictions. If I find out that this is not the case, I will immediately remove any items that are in violation of said restrictions.