The sublime Nagarjuna has said:
From all such seeds
The fruit appears as a likeness of its cause.
What clever person could ever prove
The existence of a fruit without a seed?
All phenomena exist through the relationship of cause and effect, so the view in which the two truths [the two truths are relative truth and absolute or ultimate truth] are inseparable is of fundamental importance.
Completing the two accumulations together creates the cause that will produce the absolute body and form body as the result. As the Jewel Garland points out,
Stated briefly, the form body
Arises from the accumulation of merit.
Stated briefly, the absolute body,
O King, is born from the accumulation of wisdom.
It is the accumulation of wisdom (which is included in sustained calm and profound insight as compatible causes) that is the cause for attaining the ultimate result, the absolute body, and that in turn depends on achieving the accumulation of merit. It is said in a sutra:
As long as one has not completed the supreme twin accumulation,
One will not realize supreme emptiness.
Innate absolute wisdom can only come
As the mark of having accumulated merit and purified obscurations,
And through the blessings of a realized teacher.
Know that those who rely on other means are fools.
The Reasons for Making the Mandala the Main Offering
In general, there is an infinite variety of ways to accumulate merit, and they are all included in the practice of generosity and the other transcendent perfections.
However, the offering of the mandala, which is easy to perform and very effective, is the best of all offerings by virtue of the exceptional vastness of its field, attitude, and constituents, and by virtue of its purity.
Its vastness lies in the fact that (1) the field to which one envisages making the offering is not limited [the offering is not restricted to only a few persons] but comprises all the Three Jewels and teachers in the ten directions and the three times; (2) the attitude is impartial, for one is striving for unsurpassable enlightenment and one’s thoughts therefore include all sentient beings filling the whole of space; and (3) the constituents of the offering are unrestricted, their arrangement and form as a Buddhafield that one mentally creates and then offers being as boundless as space.
As for the mandala offering being extremely pure, this is because throughout its preparation, actual practice, and conclusion, it is untainted by such things as the self-centeredness and conceit that can occur, for instance, in making other material offerings. As Lord Atisha says:
Of all the methods for accumulating merit using one’s hands, none have greater merit than the mandala.
In particular, we read in the Approach to the Absolute Truth:
In the three breaks between sessions, observing extreme purity,
Wash your mouth, hands, and feet,
Then take some perfect flowers and before the teacher
Perform the perfectly round mandala of the Victorious Ones.
By offering the mandala when we meet our glorious, sublime teachers, when they turn the Wheel of Dharma, and even when we think of them, we will please all the Buddhas and complete our own accumulation of merit and wisdom, thus creating an auspicious connection. For these and many other important reasons, the mandala is acclaimed as being by far the best of all forms of offering.
The Nature of the Offering
The mandala and offering piles are merely symbolic.
In the sutra tradition, we fully imagine all the Buddhafields in the ten directions, represented by a billion universes each made up of Mount Meru and the four continents, filled with clouds of all kinds of offerings, and we offer these to the teacher and the oceanlike infinity of the Three Jewels.
In the Mantra Vehicle, on the other hand, we recognize the nature of the fundamental way things truly are. Everything that appears outwardly as the universe arises from the true way of being that is the inner diamond body, and both of these (outer and inner mandalas) are spontaneously present in the alternative mandala, the mandala of the deity.
These three (outer, inner, and alternative) arise as the display of the absolute mandala, the union of emptiness supreme in all aspects and unchanging great bliss.
Outer, inner, and alternative offerings are therefore made within a single offering, the absolute offering of the Diamond Buddhafield that is the play of bliss-emptiness arising in all different forms.
The Meaning of the Word Mandala
The word mandala refers to a surrounding environment with a central heart, or to something that holds an arrangement of ornaments.
In the present context it has the sense of a Buddhafield, for it symbolizes the universe and beings, the support and the supported, all complete and perfect.
Source: Rinpoche, Dudjom. A Torch Lighting the Way to Freedom (pp. 219-220). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.by