The mandalas one sees most often are two-dimensional figures from Hindu and Buddhist tantric traditions. Typically, squares and circles are joined to diagram relations among the mandala’s elements. At the mandala’s center its Master commands the quarters: divisions of East, West, North, and South may be demarcated; concentric borders inscribe peripheries; deities, guardians and ghouls populate their respective regions. The effect of these diagrams is no less than a map of cosmic order, with realms and their inhabitants properly situated to constitute a perfect whole.
Relationships fixed in two-dimensional geometric mandalas spring readily into three-dimensional realization. Computer modelling of the Kalacakra mandala exhibited in Bridging Worlds raises its deity’s palace from a flattened representation in colored sand to a full-figured structure. Stupa or caitya monuments organize space around their central axis, as their mandalic ground plans make clear. They thus center the world in the manner of the axis mundi (cosmic axis), or a human being’s own embodied viewpoint. In Japan, spatial relations are still key to the mandala, but emphasis on the written word moves the mandala to abstraction, rather than three-dimensional realization.