One of the amazing things about ancient civilizations is how different peoples, even when separated by thousands of miles, came up with similar ideas, all independently. Everyone knows about the pyramids in Egypt, but did you know that there are also pyramids in Central and South America, as well as other places around the globe? These were all built in the days before inter-continental travel was possible, even by sea. Another good example is mandalas.
By mandalas, I am not referring to the Native American “Dream-catchers” that are erroneously called mandalas. Mandalas follow a basic format, no matter where they are made. A true mandala is made on a square surface, and consists of a circle with a central point, either actual, or implied, and 4 “gates”, usually in the shape of a ‘T’. Here are a few examples:
Mandalas are spiritual and ritual symbols in many cultures, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. The term, “mandala”, actually comes from the Hindu language. The exact meaning is lost to history, but it is mentioned in the Rigveda, and other Middle Eastern sanskrit documents that go back as far as 1500 BC. Mandalas also figure prominently in the East, in Tibet, Nepal, China, Japan and Indo-China. Even Christianity borrowed the mandala, in the form of the Celtic Cross, and the Auriole Oculi. Mandalas are one of the most universal sacred symbols still in use.
Mandalas are usually used as an aid to meditation, focusing, inducing a trance state, and creating a sacred space. Several books can be (and have been) written on the meanings of the symbols and colors in mandalas, but the focus of this article is a unique phenomena recorded by none other than the eminent Dr. Carl Jung, a major player in the development of modern psychiatry and psychology.
In exploring how the unconscious mind works, Jung used artwork as a window to the mind. He realized that the circle was a universally recurring theme. He was familiar with the ancient Tantric writings and adopted the term, “mandala”, to describe the motifs his patients were drawing spontaneously, without having any previous knowledge of mandalas. Jung began to associate the motifs with the inner state of the mind at the time. He said:
“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.” – Dr. Carl Jung
Jung surmised that the desire to create mandalas corresponded with periods of inner personal growth. He reasoned that the appearance of this desire indicated that a major re-balancing of the psyche was underway. It has since been established that creating mandalas can help re-order, stabilize, and moderate inner-life. Apparently, the symbolic nature of mandalas can help people access the deeper levels of their unconscious mind. Mandalas seem to be primal part of our psyche on a level beyond the world we understand. In the modern world, mandalas are still used in Meditation, Chinese Medicine, Reiki, and other disciplines. We are only now rediscovering the benefits that the use of mandalas can facilitate. It is certainly worth further study.
K. Meenakshi (2002). “Making of Pāṇini”. In George Cardona, Madhav Deshpande, Peter Edwin Hook. Indian Linguistic Studies: Festschrift in Honor of George Cardona. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 235. ISBN81-208-1885-7
C. G. Jung: “Man and His Symbols,” p. 225
Susanne F. Fincher: “Creating Mandalas: For Insight, Healing, and Self-Expression,” p. 1 – 18
David Fontana: “Meditating with Mandalas”, p. 10