Mandalas: Creative Expression and Symbols of Spirituality
Mandalas are balanced, geometric and usually elaborate compositions created for spiritual awakening and artistic expression. Usually circular, the word “Mandala,” loosely derived from the Sanskrit word for “circle,” is a Hindu/Buddhist symbol representing the radial balance of the universe and the organizational structure of life itself. Mandalas are wonderful instruments for relaxation, contemplation, and to enhance the energy of a ritual. Various spiritual traditions use mandalas to focus attention, collect one’s thoughts, establish a sacred space and as an induction into meditative and trance states. Mandalas appear in all aspects of life, as the circular shape is found within all life, from cycles and patterns to literal celestial bodies.
Mandala symbolism was intensely studied by the psychologist, Carl Jung. His writings describe mandalas as being used to transform both the inner self and outer world. Using sacred geometry, a mandala illustrates a natural and ultimate illusion to wholeness. It is the microcosm and macrocosm and we are all a part of its design. Used as a vehicle to explore art, science, and the essence and structure of life, the mandala creates a roadmap to infinity. Carl Jung quoted that mandalas were a “safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness,” and that “it is a synthesis of distinctive elements in a unified scheme representing the basic nature of existence.” Jung used mandalas for his own personal growth and wrote extensively on the subject.
The mandala design form radiates out from the center. It is the magick circle and has ritual and religious meaning culturally everywhere. Tibetan and Hindu mandalas are usually square with four gates at each edge and the circle in the middle, housing a deity. During meditation, Tibetan monks will imagine the mandala as a three dimensional palace. Creating a mandala in sand, as some spiritual sects do, demonstrates the impermanence of life. Native Americans created Medicine Wheels out of mandalas. The Taoist “yin-yang” mandala represents opposition as well as interdependence. Ancient Aztecs used a circular calendar as a time keeping device integrated with religious expression. It is said by Tibetan Buddhists that mandalas consist of five excellencies: the teacher, the message, the audience, the site and the time.
Unique to Tibetan Buddhism, sand mandalas are believed to heal and purify. Typically, the teacher chooses the specific mandala which the monks begin by consecrating the site with sacred chants and music. They then etch a detailed drawing from memory that is then filled with millions of grains of colored sand. The monks then enact the impermanent nature of existence by sweeping up the colored grains and dispersing them in flowing water. According to Buddhist text, sand mandalas emit positive energies into the environment and it’s viewers. During construction, chanting and meditation is done as an invocation to the divine energies of the deity residing in the mandala. The deity is asked for its healing blessings. A mandala’s healing power extends to the whole world before it is swept up, an expression of sharing the blessings with all.
As a “support to a meditating person,” personal mandalas have gained in popularity and are simple to create. They’re used in “zentangles” as well as many exercises and challenges such as drawing a mandala a day in a journal for 30 days. There are three basic properties in a mandala’s structure. First, the center which represents the self, the ego, birth and eternal being. It is the psyche of the individual. Second, symmetry: the path of order in a chaotic universe. Symmetrical patterns restore balance and wellness within the self and environment. Third are the cardinal points. Numerology is often deployed in the purpose and orientation. The number and design of the cardinal points will direct the flow of energy. In creating a personal mandala, two or more points are used and a circle is constructed. In astrology, the circular horoscope chart of the twelve signs and houses assume a mandala form. Seven, the heptagon, is especially powerful. Seven draws upon the symbolism of the seven colors of the rainbow, the chakras, the seven days of the week, the seven seas and the notes of the musical scale. The Wheel of the Year uses an octagon to represent the eight season festivals or sabbats. In Feng Shui, the Ba’gua diagram is also an octagonal mandala. The square is also a powerful selection in constructing the cardinal points. The square suggests stability and accepting responsibility. A five pointed pentagon shape adapts beautifully to mandala construction and symbolizes life and growth. It appears repeatedly in living organisms. Oriental carpets, Pennsylvania Dutch Hex symbols, the rose windows in cathedrals, shields, heraldic symbols and yantras are all examples of the mandala concept. All demonstrate the profound universal significance of the mandala.
Drawing a personal mandala and dedicating it to a goal or life passage is an extremely transcending, healing and magical experience. Select which number resonates with you. Draw a perfect circle. Place the cardinal points of your chosen number with dots at equal distances around the perimeter of your circle. Then, proceed to explore mandala magic for yourself by repeating symbols and designs that appeal to you. Modern mandala art includes the use of totem animals, painting mandalas on rocks, creating crochet mandalas, placing crystals or flowers in a symmetrical shape for energy transmitting and meditation practices or even etching your own sand mandala labyrinth to walk. Creating a mandala is a personal and creative project that you can make your own.