Introduction to Mandalas
A mandala is a geometric pattern present throughout our universe – from the concentric crystals of a snowflake, to the patterned grid of a tortoise shell, to the interlocking ellipses and ovals of the cosmos.
In spiritual traditions, the mandala can be an expression of the desire for “completeness” or “wholeness”; in art, a mandala can be a therapeutic exploration of the emotional identity; and in science, mandalas can be used to illustrate the vast interconnected system that keeps our universe humming.
Present in many cultures, languages, and traditions, mandalas are both highly symbolic and deeply personal – evolving over the centuries while maintaining its roots in ancient rituals.
Origin of Mandalas
The word “mandala” appears in Sanskrit texts and loosely translates to mean “circle,” although in context the word mandala also embodies greater concepts of self, universe, and wholeness. In different traditions the process of creating or observing mandalas is a form of meditation, with the goal of creating a “sacred space.”
In Hinduism, mandalas or “yantras” made of various symbols and colors (although generally circle-shaped) represent pathways to cosmic truths. In meditation, the center point of a yantra is considered an independent reality in which one can witness the link between the inner world (self) and the outer world (universe).
In Buddhism mandalas have rich spiritual meaning, often depicting specific deities or symbols revealing dharma teachings and pathways one should follow. Tibetan Buddhist monks are known to create intricate mandalas from colored sand, working for days on a single mandala only to destroy it upon completion – representing impermanence and mindfulness of the temporary nature of existence.
Christian symbols such as the celtic cross, the rosary, the halo, and the rose reflect elements of unity, continuation and interconnectedness associated with the mandala form. Popular Christian art and architecture is filled with mandala-inspired images and motifs, representing the outwards-inwards journey one takes to discover the divine.
The concept of “medicine wheels” exists in earliest recorded Native American histories, and Navajo spiritual leaders have maintained the practice of creating elaborate sand paintings celebrating the diversity and unity of life within the universe.
Notable 20th Century psychologist Carl Jung was famous for creating mandalas to reflect the inner workings of the mind – and for encouraging his clients to do the same. Jung described mandalas as "a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness… a synthesis of distinctive elements in a unified scheme representing the basic nature of existence."
From domed Byzantine temples to honeycombed Eastern mosques, much of the world’s “spiritual” architecture reflects the concept of large structures built around a small center, or beginning point.
A mandala can be a relaxing and enlightening form of personal meditation. Beginning with just a paper and pencil, anyone can start with a series of concentric circles, over time adding meaningful personal symbols, numbers, or anything else that comes to mind.