Over three decades ago I was introduced to the mandala of the dhyani buddhas through the writings of Lama Govinda. Meditation on the patterns and associations of qualities continues to draw me deeper into the living tantra which connects all events. This past week, we were discussing the mandala and considering the animals associated with the thrones supporting the Buddhas in each quadrant. If the same mandala had evolved in North America rather than on the plains of India and the foothills of the Himalayas, Asiatic species would naturally be replaced with local critters.
The Vajra family in the east represents the Indestructible Mind of the Buddha. Elephants support the throne; in the relative world Akshobya appears as the form skandha consorting with the water dakini. The transformation of aggression into mirror-like wisdom is their accomplishment. Pacifying is the primary activity. The time is dawn, the season winter. To hindus and early buddhists, elephants symbolized great natural power which could be seen every year in the monsoon rain clouds which the god Indra would ride while tossing lightning bolts (vajras). Native Americans had no elephants but mastodons and mammoths were definitely around for awhile. Related through an association with (yogic) power, unperturbed stability and the element water, the Blue or any of the great whales might be a non-extinct option, particularly in relation to the motif of superhuman power. Turtles, snakes (their relation to nagas in the orient and lightning amongst native americans) and the blue heron fit well into the same retinue.
Horses (brought here by the Spanish almost 500 years ago) support the throne of the Jewel-born Buddha in the southern quadrant. In the relative world the yellow buddha appears as the skandha of feeling while his consort Mamaki is earth. The transformation of arrogance into the wisdom realizing emptiness is their accomplishment. Associated with the Qualities of the Buddhas, enriching is their activity. The time is midday, the season is autumn. Ripeness, abundance. Representing the Three Jewels and all derivative wealth, the residents of Turtle Island might find similar qualities in such useful herd animals as bison, deer, elk, caribou or bighorn sheep.
Amitabha, the Buddha of the Padma family in the West, sits on a Lotus throne supported by peacocks which are said to eat poison and transform it into the brilliance of their tails. (I flashed on the Mexican eagle pulling the snake out of its hole and thought, nope, that's not quite the vibe...) In the relative world the red buddha appears as perception while his consort is the element fire. The transformation of lust and desire into the loving intelligence of discriminating wisdom is their accomplishment. Magnetizing is their activity. The time is twilight, the season is spring. Evanescent beauty. The reds, rusts, yellows and blue feathers of the multitude of songbirds found locallly. Their songs also reflect Amitabha's association with the Speech of the Buddhas and the practice of mantra. Our local choice, is the Wild Turkey. This also reflects a classical polarization between birds and snakes with birds in the celestial above (fire/red) and snakes in the aqueous realm below (water/blue).
To the north is the Garuda throne; owls, ravens, crows, vultures, hawks, eagles, 'the mythical thunderbird'... Subjugating is their activity. Time is midnight, season is summer. Here Amogha-siddhi, associated with Buddha Activities, sits yab-yum with Green Tara. In his relative aspect he is volition and she the element wind. The transformation of jealousy, paranoia and instability into the fullness of all-accomplishing wisdom is their transcendent alchemy. Quickening, effective action, cutting through obstacles, sealed by the Double- dorjÈ.
The central place is the domain of the lion, king of the jungle. Who's top of the food chain in the west? Bear. Fearlessly representing the Body of the Buddha, Vairocana turns the Wheel of the teachings. Vairocana is Buddha free of appearance, the clear light of Dharmakaya which shines through all colors. In his relative aspect he is self-reflective consciousness consorting with the queen of heavenly space. The transformation of ignorance regarding the true nature of existence into dharmadhatu wisdom is their supreme accomplishment.