What is a Mandala?
Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning "circle" or "round." In a religious context, it is a symmetrical representation of the universe that can be sketched, painted, sculpted, embroidered, drawn with sand, built as a temple or city, or represented in motion through dance.

At right are examples of mandalas. Click on the small image to see its larger version.

Where did they come from? 
The word “mandala” originates in Hindu and Buddhist practice, in which the mandala is a symbolic expression of cosmology and serves as a teaching device for practitioners. The mandala form originated in India and evolved in Tibet. Tibetan mandalas have four (or multiples of four) sides. The outer corners are usually protectors of the Buddha wisdom within. 

What are they used for? 
Carl Jung and other Western psychologists have described the mandala as a universal expression of the human subconscious.

In general all mandalas have outer and inner meanings. On the outer level, they represent the world in its divine form; and on the inner level, they represent a map by which the ordinary human mind is transformed into an enlightened mind. 

Introduction to the Gohonzon (The Great Mandala of the True Dharma)

When did Nichiren first start inscribing the Gohonzon? 
Nichiren Daishonin began inscribing the Gohonzon after the Tatsunokuchi Persecution (see the picture at right).

He wrote about this incident in the "Opening of the Eyes:" "On the twelfth day of the ninth month, this person Nichiren was beheaded. It is his soul that has come to this island of Sado." 

In the "Misawa Gosho" (Letter to Misawa), he wrote, "As for my teachings, regard those before my exile to Sado as equivalent to the Buddha's pre-Lotus Sutra teachings." 

The Tatsunokuchi incident is regarded as the time at which Nichiren Daishonin cast off his transient role as the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Jogyo and revealed his true identity as the original Buddha who appeared in the Latter Day of the Law. 

What is the purpose of the Gohonzon? 
"Shakyamuni, Taho, and all the other Buddhas in the ten directions represent the world of Buddhahood within ourselves. By searching them out within us, we can receive the benefits of Shakyamuni, Taho, and all other Buddhas." 

Major Writings, Vol. 1, p. 64, "The True Object of Worship"

The image at right is a small image of a Gohonzon diagram — in this case, it is a diagram of the Nichikan-transcribed Gohonzon that is currently being issued by SGI.

Each numbered white rectangle corresponds to a being on the Gohonzon. If you click the small diagram at right, you will open up a much larger version of the diagram. Then, if you click on the numbered white rectangles, you can see their names and brief descriptions.  Other explanations of those beings can be found throughout this site, i.e., "Top Row," "Special Characters" (use the navigation bars at left).

1. The top mandala was found using Google Image Search. It was on a website that no longer exists.
2. The mandala of Shakyamuni Buddha is from the Indonesian website http://www.tbsn.org/indonesian/shakyamuni.htm.
3. The picture of Nichiren at Tatsunokuchi is the frontispiece of The Mikado's Empire by W.E. Griffis, published 1876 by Harper Bros.
4. "Nichiren on Sado Island" by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, at the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst - Berlin — scanned from a holiday greeting card.
5. The Gohonzon Diagram is from the SGI-USA website.

Other Resources:
All Gosho quotes on this site are from the Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. This material can be accessed at the SGI-USA Library

Information on mandalas was gleaned from many sources. Of particular help was a handout received at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington DC. The text was written by Robert E. Fisher, E. J. Coleman, and Giuseppe Tucci.