Mandalas: Sacred Symbols to Wholeness

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Mandalas are balanced, geometric, and usually elaborate compositions created for spiritual awakening and artistic expression. Usually circular, the word mandala derives loosely from the Sanskrit word for “circle” – a Hindu and 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 of life, from the shape used to describe cycles and patterns to the literal circular reality of the celestial bodies.
Mandala symbolism was intensely studied by psychologist and mystic, Carl Jung. His writings describe the use of mandalas to transform both the inner self and outer world. Using sacred geometry, a mandala illustrates a natural and ultimate illusion of wholeness. It is the microcosm and the 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 contains a road map 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 magic circle and has ritual and religious meaning culturally everywhere. Tibetan and Hindu mandalas usually are square with four gates at each edge, with the circle in the center as the house of a deity. During meditation, Tibetan monks will imagine the mandala as a three dimensional palace; creating a mandala in sand 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 (mandala) 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, the time.

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Sand Mandalas

Sand mandalas, unique to Tibetan Buddhism, are constructed from sand and believed to effect healing and purification. Typically, the teacher will choose the specific mandala which the monks begin by consecrating the site with sacred chants and music. Next, they 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 transmit positive energies into the environment and into the viewers. During construction, chanting and meditation is done as an invocation to the divine energies of the deity that resides within the mandala. The deity is asked for it’s healing blessings. A mandalas healing power extends to the whole world before it is swept up, an expression of sharing the blessings with all.

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Personal Mandalas

As “the support of a meditating person,” personal mandalas are gaining in popularity and simple to create (for more meditative art, check out “zentangles”.) There are three basic properties in mandala 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 the environment. Finally, third: cardinal points. Numerology is often employed 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 twelve zodiac signs and houses assume a mandala form. Seven, the heptagon, is especially powerful. Seven draws upon the symbolism of the colors in the rainbow, the chakras, the days of the week, the seven seas, and the notes in the musical scale. The Witches’ Wheel of the Year is an octagon, a circle of the eight seasonal festivals or sabbats. In Feng Shui, the ba’gua diagram is also an octagonal mandala. Four, the square, is another popular and powerful number to select in constructing the cardinal points of a mandala. The square suggests stability and accepting responsibility. The 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 mandalas.

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Drawing a personal mandala and dedicating it to a goal or life passage is an extremely transcending, healing and magical experience. First, 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 or creating crochet mandalas, placing crystals or flowers in a symmetrical circle 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, make it your own!

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