Sanskrit for complete, circle, center. Also
1. Root manda – essence, suffix la – container → a container of essence
2. Manda – palace, la – hidden present
→ a place of divinity
3. Man – mind, d(h)a – maintaining
→ complete within the mind
Mandala is an elaborate graphic symbol and a cosmic diagram of the universe, its celestial (the planets and their movement) and conceptual (bonds – family, friends) circles in their symbolic and metaphysical forms. It is a demonstration of unity within diversity and a symbol of the interrelatedness of all beings.
Mandala is a holistic, integrated structure designed around a unifying center, the Axis Mundi, the center of the world, which implies a point of connection between the sky and the earth, the intermediary between the higher and lower realms, the point where the four compass directions meet. It is usually employed to focus attention and is used as an aid to meditation. Mandala is considered to be a depiction of an actual moment in time. It represents wholeness, the celestial circles and reminds of our relation to the infinite, of the world which extends beyond and within us.
The Psychology behind the Circle
The circle is the most natural form in the universe. Research shows that humans are born with a natural inclination to look at circles. Infants are most likely to observe curved rather than straight lines (Fantz and Miranda, 1975), and the skill of recognizing circles is built into their optical apparatus (Horowitz, 1983). Our eyes are shaped in a spherical form, which indicates that our visual information is taken in through a circle. Hence, drawing circular patterns, including mandalas, taps into our natural affinity for circles.
Commonly, mandala appears as a series of concentric circles, while its origin is a dot in the center, which is the seed, a creation and recreation, a starting point, where the energy unfolds from and ultimately is drawn to. The rest is a continuum of spatial experiences. The center of the mandala, being the essential part of its structure, is as if an umbilical cord that provides nourishment to the outer parts of the intricate design. The repetitive pattern of mandala’s structure symbolizes the finite, whereas its non-deliberate choice signifies the map to infinity, the path from the microcosm (atomic structure), the inner world, to the macrocosm (galactic level), the outer world.
The Essence of Mandala
The purpose of creating mandalas is concerned with the process of invocation, the realization of the spiritual force within the contemplator, of something larger than the individual, meanwhile celebrating their uniqueness and difference, which enables inner peace and balance. Thus, the majority of mandala schemes exhibit radial balance from their central point, and the shapes are strictly geometric. The circular patterns radiate with repetitive colors and forms from the center towards the outer parts. The mediate circles portray the orbits of celestial bodies and their movement. The circular layers form a protective barrier around the palace, and each of them symbolizes a certain individual quality.
The external (flaming) circle, by which the mandala is usually encompassed, is the symbol of wisdom. Other symbols such as the three-footed spiral – the first movement, rotating wind – states of aggregation are standard parts of the design. A red triangle symbolizes fire and stands for transformation. A blue semi-circle/circle represents water, symbolizing liquidity, unsteadiness. A yellow square/cube is the symbol of earth, representing solidity. Flowers are the symbols of consciousness, spirals learning and growth, triangles dreams, goals and vision, squares stability, security, the constructive process and realization of ideas. Other cultural symbols such as the thunderbolt, bell, wheel, and diamond, respectively represent the male, female beginnings, the eightfold path, and the clear mind.
It is believed that each mandala contains a piece of energy from its creator. The practitioner drawing the mandala as if establishes a dialogue between the patterns and their thoughts. The process of creation transmits positive energy for its creators and observers. Due to its visually appealing design, it absorbs the viewers’ mind and prevents the access of negative thoughts. Its meditative effect results in a higher consciousness and awareness, fosters a sense of connectedness with oneself and allows the free flow of creativity. As a result, the practitioner achieves a more focused, attentive, relaxed, peaceful, and worriless state of mind.
Hildegard von Bingen, a German medieval philosopher, mystic, and a Christian nun, utilized the art of mandalas to communicate her visions and faith. Many of her mandalas are proof that art knows no religious or cultural boundaries.
Carl J. Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, was among the first to introduce the practice of mandalas to Western cultures. He was positive that mandalas promote self-expression, discovery, and healing. Jung noticed the emotional and mental changes during the process of drawing. The transformation emerged during moments of personal growth, and it soothed his patients’ chaotic psychological states, resolved inner personal conflicts. “A mandala is the psychological expression of the totality of the self.” “I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time. … Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is: … the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which, if all goes well, is harmonious,” Jung mentioned in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
The creative process of mandala drawing symbolizes us in the most genuine and mystical sense of the word. It has the power to pull us beyond ourselves; it helps us achieve a more holistic, more complete version of who we are… In fact, we are always more, more than we think we are.
* Sand mandalas made by the Buddhist monks are usually brushed together right after the ritual and given to the body of flowing water, as an expression of impermanence, transient nature of life and insubstantiality of visible forms.
Sources & Further Readings