Presentation Title

The Dynamic Social Agency of the Kālacakra Sand Mandala

Start Date

November 2016

End Date

November 2016

Location

MSE 011

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Abstract

The Tibetan Buddhist initiation rite known as the Kālacakra involves the creation and destruction of a highly complex representation of enlightened experience known as a sand mandala. While the intricate design and ephemeral nature of the mandala have long piqued the interest of Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, the history of Kālacakra scholarship has either focused on historical and philosophical accounts of the ritual, or has offered a semiotic didacticism for deciphering the mandala’s encoded symbols. These approaches fail to consider the lived experiences of those individuals who interact with the mandala, whether spiritually or secularly. Based on qualitative research conducted among Kālacakra practitioners in several Tibetan-American Buddhist communities, this paper examines the integration of this practice into the American cultural landscape through the mandala’s invention of new and diverse publics ranging from casual observers and volunteers, to refugees, tantric disciples and New Age seekers. To do this, I weave considerations of the non-practicing publics through my explanation of the practitioner’s ritual engagement. I argue that the mandala functions with a secondary social agency that affords specific modes of subject formation, and that by engaging with the mandala in particular ways, individuals construct and negotiate the many overlapping worlds they inhabit. Such a perspective offers a view of the mandala’s social function that goes beyond the conventional historical and semiotic approaches to Kālacakra scholarship. I therefore provide a method for understanding the mandala that maps more fully onto the complex realities expressed by the mandala’s many engaged publics.

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Nov 12th, 10:15 AM Nov 12th, 10:30 AM

The Dynamic Social Agency of the Kālacakra Sand Mandala

MSE 011

The Tibetan Buddhist initiation rite known as the Kālacakra involves the creation and destruction of a highly complex representation of enlightened experience known as a sand mandala. While the intricate design and ephemeral nature of the mandala have long piqued the interest of Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, the history of Kālacakra scholarship has either focused on historical and philosophical accounts of the ritual, or has offered a semiotic didacticism for deciphering the mandala’s encoded symbols. These approaches fail to consider the lived experiences of those individuals who interact with the mandala, whether spiritually or secularly. Based on qualitative research conducted among Kālacakra practitioners in several Tibetan-American Buddhist communities, this paper examines the integration of this practice into the American cultural landscape through the mandala’s invention of new and diverse publics ranging from casual observers and volunteers, to refugees, tantric disciples and New Age seekers. To do this, I weave considerations of the non-practicing publics through my explanation of the practitioner’s ritual engagement. I argue that the mandala functions with a secondary social agency that affords specific modes of subject formation, and that by engaging with the mandala in particular ways, individuals construct and negotiate the many overlapping worlds they inhabit. Such a perspective offers a view of the mandala’s social function that goes beyond the conventional historical and semiotic approaches to Kālacakra scholarship. I therefore provide a method for understanding the mandala that maps more fully onto the complex realities expressed by the mandala’s many engaged publics.