The journey ‘into’ the world of the mandala is a visionary journey taken in the mind’s eye – and the imagery of the mandala guides it.
At the outset of the journey, the student encounters any number of fierce guardian figures. In many early Tibetan mandalas, such fierce guardians appear at the bottom of the painting. In later mandalas, a series of cemeteries, a ring of fire, and a circle of golden thunderbolts each may separate the visualized world of the mandala from the ordinary world.
Once inside, a strange sight greets the meditator: a cubic palace seated on top of two crossed vajras , which itself appears on an immense lotus. The four quadrants of the palace are oriented to the cardinal directions and color-coded to match them.
The meditator enters this palace from the east. Here, she encounters the cosmic Buddha Akshobhya, the "Unshakeable One." His hand gesture is the same as that made by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni when he began his career as a Buddha: the earth-touching gesture that defeated the armies of Mara. The symbolism of the unshakeable vajra seat, located at the foot of the bodhi tree, is the linchpin between the two.
Then the meditator proceeds clockwise to the south, west, north and center. The visualization culminates as meditators transfer their own awareness into the visualized body of Vairochana.