Like the warm, comforting embrace of a loved one who is welcoming us home, mandalas enfold us in a soothing, tender cradle. They draw us in with tranquil arms and encircle us in a sanctuary of love and protection. To fall into this embrace is to dive into the very core of our own beings and to gracefully swim in the haven of insight, healing and self-expression.
The word Mandala comes from the ancient Sanskrit language of India and simply means “circle”. The essence of this translation is “wholeness” or “completeness.” Symbolically, a mandala is that which has no beginning and no end. It is a visual representation of our relation to the infinite world that extends both beyond and within the physical form. By interlacing symbolism, numerology, symmetry, sacred geometry and color, mandalas reveal the awe-inspiring complexity and simplicity of life.
Mandalas appear naturally in all aspects of life. They surround us in our daily activities whether that be at home, at work, or at play. They are apparent in both material and conceptual realities. For example, mandalas are observed in nature from the smallest atoms to the largest galaxies. They are the flowers, the snowflakes, the fruits, the hurricanes, the spider’s web, the starfish, the eyes and so on. They are also the cycles of life, the circles of friends and family, the organizational structure of many businesses, the musical scale, and the arena in which life itself is played.
For millennium, the circle motif has been employed to graphically illustrate wholeness and truth in both religious and secular cultures. The circle is the foundation upon which all geometric forms are generated and thus, has a revered place in history and modern day existence. The mandala pattern lends function and form, as well as symmetry and grace, to both ancient and contemporary places of worship, dwellings, tombs, architecture, urban plans, art and philosophy. They have served exclusively in a functional manner as tools and purely in an artistic manner as expressions of beauty. Sometimes mandalas perform multiple functions as in the giant stone circles built by our ancestors as time keeping devices and ceremonial centers. No matter how this motif is being utilized, it clearly resonates deeply with humans and is intuitively part of our creative self.
Mandalas are used in many spiritual traditions as part of meditative practices. For instance, in the Buddhist tradition, Tibetan monks spend endless hours meticulously creating intricate mandalas out of colored sand. These mandalas are complex arrangements of patterns or symbols that represent the universe and give expression to the infinite possibilities of the human subconscious. The process of creating these mandalas is a reminder that all of the answers to life’s deepest questions lie at the center or at the heart of ones self. There is nothing outside the circle that holds any allure and once this truth is fully realized, life can become a full expression of the inner self in the outer world. Upon completion of the sand mandala, it is literally blown away with the wind and thus, demonstrates non attachment to the material world where nothing is permanent.
In the Hindu tradition, mandalas, also known as sacred Yantras, are a model for the organizational structure of life itself. These mystic diagrams are a matrix of a perfected universe and are usually made up of an outline (bhupur), the circle, petals, intersecting triangles, and the central dot (bindu). The placement of the shapes around the bindu express harmony and balance as well as draw the eyes from the outside to the center of the Yantra. In essence, this mirrors the spiritual practice of gently guiding the wandering mind toward the center of the being where one can rest peacefully. From this place, unity with all, including the divine, can be experienced. Yantras are tools for spiritual development rather than self expression and are often used in meditative practice in conjunction with chanting mantras.
Native Americans are acutely aware of the power of the circle. In fact, many tribes understand all of life in terms of circles and cycles. This perception is pervasive in their art, their circular dances and their spiritual practices. The medicine wheel, for instance, is a mandala used for teaching lessons about life, morality and one’s place in the community. Within this sacred circle, there are four cardinal points or directions arranged like the those on a compass. Each direction has its own distinct qualities, colors, lessons to learn, insights to gain and skills to master. According to the way of the medicine wheel, each person comes into the world with the understanding of at least one direction. The endeavor of living is to master each of the other directions in order to be in balance and harmony with the natural order of life.
Mandalas, whether painted, carved, sewn, chanted or danced are created with the intent of expressing our inherent highest good. Creating a mandala is very much like taking a self healing journey. Every color and texture reveals a new awareness of the self while every symbol or geometric shape teaches us to speak the universal language of the heart. At the end of the journey, the truth that is discovered is the wholeness and perfection that has always been.
Even if you never create a mandala, simply recognizing the mandala concepts is an extraordinarily powerful tool for growth. To see the ultimate connection of everything is to begin to see the full spectrum of the divine; to know that there is an order contained within an eternal structure is to feel harmonized inside; to look inward for the deepest answers is to truly trust in the greatness of who you are; to imagine the circle as the protective arms of Grace supporting all that you do is to rest fully in the perfection of life. These sacred circles guide, direct, protect and challenge us to open into the divine beings we are already.