MANDALAS - Tools for Meditation, Balance & Spiritual Awakening
Mandalas - Sacred Circles of Life, Art and Timeless Traditions
What do mandalas have to offer us? And how can we use them for personal growth, wisdom, healing and understanding our present lives, as well as ancient societies and traditions?
Mandalas are circular designs having symbolic significance, created and used to enhance meditation, focus and inner awareness. Beyond their aesthetic decorative value, they can serve as a visual language containing geometric structures, elements or configurations representative of the cosmos as microcosms of the universe. Just the process of creating a mandala can in itself be a form of meditation, spiritual healing or aligning with a sense of wholeness.
Many mandalas are formed using sacred geometry principles, arranging points, lines, shapes and colors into uniform divisions with mathematical ratios, proportions and patterns often found in nature. Sacred geometry patterns and fractal repeating symmetry can be found in plants, flowers, seeds, pinecones, tree rings, shells, spider webs, beehives, water, snowflakes, mineral crystals and liquid crystal formations are a few examples of these natural structures and patterns.
Sacred Geometry based on mathematical proportions as found in nature is the basis of the Golden Proportion (aka the Fibonacci sequence or Phi ratio of 1.618), considered the blueprint of life.
The Flower of Life, and Seed of Life formed by the multiplication and arrangement of circles, represent the creation of life that mirrors the process of cellular division. Sacred Geometry goes beyond life on Earth. Photos of space galaxies show similar spiral formations. If we trace the patterns of the planetary movements, their orbits create some of the most lovely and complex sacred geometry mandalas.
Similarities in mandala designs in art, architecture and spiritual traditions have been discovered from many ancient civilizations having cross-pollination influences throughout Asia, the Middle East as well as western cultures.
In Hindu traditions, the word Mandala comes from the Sanskrit, meaning “sacred circle”, derived from the root words manda (essence) and la (container). In Vedic spiritual practices such as yoga and Ayurveda, mandalas are used as meditation and visualization aids sometimes associated with religious rituals. The practice of focussing on specific images can help one to balance the psyche through the visual impact of the colors and energetic vibrational frequency of the elements forming the mandala.
From the Vajrayana Buddhist and Vedic lineages of Yoga, come the Tantric esoteric principles associated with human anatomy and the psyche, which includes the Chakra System. The word chakra comes from the Sanskrit, meaning “wheel”. Chakras are energetic vortices within the energetic body corresponding to the physical body. The 7 major chakras are located along the central axis of the body from the base of the spine to the top of the head. Usually depicted as circular lotus-shaped mandalas with specific numbers of petals, these chakra symbols represent the rotating, spiraling movement and frequencies of the points where the nadis (energy pathways) intersect.
Often depicted as mandalas or yantras*, the 7 primary chakras are associated with specific symbols, energies and colors. The first chakra’s color is red, representing foundations, roots, connecting to the Earth, strength and grounding. The second’s color is orange, representing creativity, pleasure, sexuality and sensuality. The third is yellow, for the Sun, fire, joy, enthusiasm, courage and personal power. The fourth is green (+ pink) representing the heart, love, compassion, balance, air, breath and life force. The fifth is turquoise, for purification, healing, communication and expression. The sixth is indigo, for intuition, perception, awareness and wisdom. And the seventh chakra is violet, representing spiritual awakening, universal oneness and higher consciousness. There are many additional associations with each chakra that I've indicated in my Chakra Lotus Collection art images. These can be used as teaching tools to help understand the chakra energy system. (For more info about the chakras, see my previous blog posts from October 19th and Oct 22nd 2018.)
*Yantras are diagrams created to harness spiritual energy for manifesting one’s needs or desires. Used in Vedic, Hindu and Tantric traditions, the word yantra means “to receive” or “to support”. Yantras can incorporate mandalas / circles, plus other basic geometric forms: squares, triangles, lotus petals, sacred symbols or Sanskrit letters to signify mantras (“seed syllables”). (more on yantras and symbols in my next post)
In Tibetan Buddhism mandalas symbolize perfect balance and harmony, representing the cycles of life on a journey or path to enlightenment. Each element of a mandala has a special significance. The eight-spoked Wheel of Dharma symbol of Buddhism, represents the “eightfold path” to perfection and enlightenment. The lotus flower as a symbol for the attainment of enlightenment, represents balance, beauty and ascending from the muddy murky waters to blossom in the light. Many traditional Tibetan mandalas are based on the number 5. This corresponds to 5 primary elements: air, water, earth, fire and space; the 5 directions: east, south, west, north and center; and 5 main colors: white, red, yellow, green and blue (or black): Color associations can vary depending on the specific mandala. Generally, white represents purity, clarity, light and revelations. Black is the primordial darkness, mystery, hate and ignorance. Blue, depending on the shade, can have spiritual or mysterious qualities. Red represents passions energy and life force. Yellow symbolizes the Earth, humility and renunciation (as the saffron robes of monks). Green represents qualities of nature, trees, plants, balance, harmony, youthful vigor and action.
The Kalachakra Mandala is a complex mandala, considered the most sacred, representing the Wheel of Time. It contains 722 deities in the Divine Palace with Buddha at the center sitting on a lotus flower. It is believed that this mandala has the power to reduce conflict, create wholeness, peace of mind and spirit. Many Nepalese paintings and Thangkas (sacred Buddhist paintings framed in silk coverings) display intricate mandalas having mystical or spiritual significance.
The Tibetan Sand Mandala (Dul-Tson-Kyll-Khor - pictured in cover image) is a sacred ritual practice of applying a variety of colored sand or powders onto a flat surface in symmetrical shapes, patterns and elements to create intricate symbolic Buddhist mandala designs. The ceremony is performed or guided by one or more monks trained in the tradition, and involves the collaboration of a team of several participants to contribute to the design. The diagrams are first lightly sketched out with chalk, and then filled in from the center outward using small metal funnel tubes to build the design. These mandalas can take an entire day or several days to complete. After completion, the ceremonial destruction of the mandala represents the Buddhist acceptance of the impermanent transitory nature of life. The sand mixture is then collected in a vessel and brought to a river or body of moving water to be returned back into nature.
In Islamic cultures we find beautiful complex sacred geometry patterns and forms of plant motifs and calligraphy in much of the architecture, tiles, fabrics and arts. In Islamic art, beauty represents a quality of the Divine. Circles represent infinity and various repeating ornamental patterns represent spiritual qualities found in nature.
Various Sacred Dance traditions often employ circular patterns inspired by mandalas. The Sufi whirling dervish, meditative, hypnotic spinning and centrifugal movement of the circular skirt can be seen as creating a living mandala. The Hajj pilgrimage of Islam in Mecca, with thousands of worshippers all moving in unison around the Kaaba is also akin to the circular and spiraling energy of a mandala in motion.
In Christianity, mandalas can be seen in the architecture of churches, temples and Gothic cathedrals, represented as ornate rosette decorations, stained-glass windows, arched domed ceilings and circular labyrinths on many cathedral floors and rotundas. The Labyrinth represents a spiritual journey to self-discovery. Many stained Glass cathedral windows use the color red to symbolize the blood and passion of Christ, and blue to represent the purity of Mother Mary. Christian Gothic designs are usually based on a 4 pattern and the number 12 (12 circles, half circles, diamonds & quatrefoils) representing many esoteric and Biblical associations. With the perfect symmetry of these grand sacred spaces came the association of mandalas to sacred geometry.
In Taoism and the Chinese art of Feng Shui, sacred geometry and symbols are used for designing or arranging objects in spaces to help establish and maintain balance in environments and in life. Many Taoist mandalas are 8-sided with a central circle containing the Taoist yin/yang symbol. This circular symbol as a mandala represents the principle of balance between the Yin (feminine, dark, receptive Earth) and Yang (masculine, light, expansive Sky) energies. The light contains a dot of darkness and the darkness contains a dot of light. They interact with one another to achieve harmony and balance. We find several interesting similarities and correlations between the Chinese and other ancient esoteric systems. Feng Shui is based on the 5-element cycles and the 8-sided Bagua from the I Ching, which represents 8 directions, 8 energetic forces and aspects of life. Feng Shui also utilizes geomancy, astrology and 12 animals in a 64-year cycle.
Pre-Columbian Aztec, Mayan & Incan calendars, pyramids and temples exhibit several similar design elements to the Eastern mandalas. Sacred animals, temples, Deities and astrology are prominent elements. Sun Gods, flowers, birds and other stylized symbols and motifs were carefully arranged on ancient disc-like mandalas that depict their mythological stories, symbols and astrological cycles connecting the Heavens, the Earth and the meaning of life.
In Native American cultures the Sacred Medicine Wheel is a symbol of nature, time, space, the elements, spirit and the alignment with Mother Earth. The traditional Medicine Wheel is a circle divided into four quadrants, representing the four sacred directions, the astrological seasons and cycles of life. 4 colors, yellow, red, black and white represent the four races of humanity. Sacred animal totems and other symbols are associated with each direction. The East, colored yellow, represents the spring, birth, infancy, youth, childhood, sunrise, dawn, new light, new growth, seeds sprouting, buds and blossoms, new possibilities, moving towards the future. The animals for the East are winged birds and eagles… The South, colored red, represents summer, full bright light and heat of mid-day Sun, present growth, development, bearing fruits, being in one’s prime of life, and the wolf totem… The West, colored black, represents autumn, sunset, cooling, the cycle of maturity, aging, shadows, introspection, reflection on the past, and the bear totem… The North, colored white, represents, winter, cold, midnight, hibernation, sleep, wisdom, elders, the ancestors, healing, dreams and the white buffalo. Medicine Wheels may also acknowledge a center that represents balance and harmony with all 4 quadrants. A ceremony honoring the four directions often includes 3 additional directions: Father Sky/ the Heavens above, Mother Earth/ the ground below, and the self within. Dream Catchers are charms made of circular hoops woven with threads and other objects created in the tradition of the Medicine Wheel. They are hung over cradles to protect children or used as personal, symbolic or decorative objects. Medicine Wheels were often laid out over a span of Earth, using stones, bones, pottery, wood and natural objects as markers for ceremonial gatherings and rituals.
In Australian Aboriginal art we also find circular paintings, patterns and formations. Concentric circles and dots are a recurring element in much of aboriginal art. Australian indigenous societies do not have their own written language, so they make use of common primitive symbols to convey stories, themes and messages that reflect nature and their society.
In ancient Celtic and Druid cultures circular designs form the basis of sacred sites and ruins such as Stonehenge, and show up in motifs, such as the Celtic Knot, the Trinity Knot, Triquetra & Triskelion (representing the Holy Trinity) and the Celtic Spiral.
The more I research these diverse cultural traditions, the more similarities I discover between them, which confirms how closely we are all connected.
With growing trends towards yoga and interest in eastern spiritual traditions, mandalas have become a mainstream part of popular culture. Computers make it easier than ever to digitally create the most intricate, precise sacred geometric designs. The internet is a rich source for information, inspiration and education on the meanings and symbolism of mandalas. In the information age of Aquarius, not much stays hidden. What once remained obscured esoteric secrets, only revealed to monks or initiates, is now available to almost anyone with the curiosity to seek it out. But there are still many unsolved mysteries, Crop Circles being among them.
Crop Circles are a modern-day phenomena many believe to be created by extraterrestrials or some advanced form of intelligence or technology. Many crop circles replicate ancient mandalas and complex esoteric designs, too geometrically perfect to be the work of random pranksters. Many have tried to debunk them as hoaxes, created by men with ropes and wooden boards. Though some have been proven to be hoaxes, with others, the speed of their formation combined with the passing of strange UFO lights as documented on video, leaves one to wonder if the ET theories are true. Or are these top secret man-made technologies being tested that that are carefully hidden from the mainstream public?
In Permaculture communities, one beautiful and practical emerging trend is the building of “mandala gardens”, planting within the confines of sacred geometry design elements and geomancy. The process not only creates visually stunning gardens, the breaking up of different plant beds allows for easier access to the plants for care, applying mulch, and harvesting edibles. Thoughtfully designed walkways allow room to move through gardens without risk of stepping on or damaging fragile plants.
Practical Uses of Mandalas
Creating mandalas can be a form of art therapy, meditation, creative expression, an outlet for stress relief and emotional healing. For anyone who feels they lack artistic talent to create a mandala from scratch, there are some wonderful mandala coloring books available. Just coloring in the shapes can be a meditative practice. In exploring colors you may gain insight and intuition about your relationship to life and environment as is practiced in Feng Shui. With or without art skills, additional methods of arranging objects such as flower petals, leaves, crystals, herbs, feathers, beads, foods and other items, allow anyone to create interesting nature mandalas. You can photograph these if perishable, or create mosaics of more durable art and craft objects. If you enjoy creating digital images, graphic software programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop allow one to easily turn photos, graphics and text into a kaleidoscope of digital mandalas. The possibilities are endless, and some artists can actually earn a decent living from creating and selling unique art mandalas.
Meditating on Yantras and Mandalas can help one focus on healing or strengthening conditions associated with a specific chakra or life issues. For example; Someone whose throat chakra is blocked may have difficulty expressing themselves, communicating their ideas, or feeling like they are heard or listened to. Meditating on the symbols, colors and affirmations associated with that chakra may help develop clarity and confidence to better express one’s truth. Mandalas can be used to enhance mental clarity, goal setting, visualization and manifestation.
Working with mandalas, either creating your own, or purchasing artwork that inspires or resonates with you, can help us realize our connection to the universe, the planet, and help us balance various aspects of life.
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© 2018 by Marsha Silvestri.
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