“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.
— Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 195–196.”

The word mandala means “circle” in Sanskrit and is the name given to geometric patterns that Buddhists have used in the practice of meditation for centuries.

Jung and Mandala

Carl Jung, the renowned Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, had a deep fascination with mandalas. He considered them to be powerful symbols of wholeness and individuation, representing the integration of the conscious and unconscious aspects of the self. According to Jung, mandalas can be seen as archetypal images that emerge from the collective unconscious, reflecting the universal patterns of human experience.

For Jung, mandalas served as a tool for self-exploration and self-transformation. He often encouraged his patients to create mandalas as a means of accessing and expressing the unconscious. By engaging in the process of creating a mandala, individuals could gain insight into their own psyche, discover hidden aspects of themselves, and achieve a sense of harmony and balance.

Jung believed that the circular and symmetrical design of mandalas had a calming and stabilizing effect on the psyche. They represented a microcosm of the universe and symbolized the unity of all things. Mandalas can be found across different cultures and religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Native American traditions, each with their own unique interpretations and spiritual significance.

Today, mandalas continue to be used as tools for meditation, self-reflection, and personal growth. Creating or coloring mandalas can be a therapeutic practice, allowing individuals to relax, focus their attention, and tap into their inner wisdom. Whether you appreciate them for their rich symbolism, artistic beauty, or meditative qualities, mandalas offer a profound way to connect with the deeper aspects of ourselves and the universe we inhabit.

Examples of mandala can be found in all the ancient cultures. We find it in Christianity under the form of frescos with animal images representing apostles (and the zodiac). The astrologic zodiac and its versions are examples of mandala. Also, in the Indian spiritual practices we find fascinating examples of mandala, with symbols of the local pantheon.

In yoga practices, mandala can be a support for meditation or an image that must be internalized through mental absorption. This image organizes the inner energies and forces of the practitioner and puts them in relationship with his ego-consciousness.

Brief History of Mandalas

Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in the region now known as Nepal. Though there is no confirmed date of his birth, historians believe it to be around 560 B.C. It is understood that Gautama left his kingdom after becoming aware of human suffering, where he sought to attain enlightenment through meditation and thoughtful action. He began to preach his philosophy across parts of India, where he gained devout followers and eventually established the first sangha, Buddhist community of monks.

As these Buddhist monks travelled the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and West, they brought Buddhism to other lands. They carried mandalas with them and brought the practice of painting these spiritual compositions to other parts of Asia, appearing in regions such as Tibet, China, and Japan by the 4th century. Though rooted in Buddhism, mandalas soon became present in Hinduism and other religious practices. Painters of the spiritual craft were often pious laymen, who were commissioned by a patron. They worked seated on the floor with a painting propped in their laps or in front of their crossed legs.

Types of Mandalas

There are various types of mandalas found in different cultures and used for a multitude of purposes, both artistically and spiritually. Below are three main types of mandalas and how they are used.

1. Teaching Mandala
Teaching mandalas are symbolic, and each shape, line, and color represents a different aspect of a philosophical or religious system. The student creates his or her own mandala based on principles of design and construction, projecting a visual symbolization of everything they have learned. Teaching mandalas serve as colorful, mental maps for their creators.

2. Healing Mandala
Healing mandalas are more intuitive than teaching mandalas, and they are made for the purpose of meditation. Healing mandalas are intended to deliver wisdom, evoke feelings of calm, and channel focus and concentration.

3. Sand Mandala
Buddhist monks and Navajo cultures have long used sand mandalas as a traditional, religious element. These intricate designs use a variety of symbols made from colored sand that represent the impermanence of human life.

Structures of Mandalas

In its most common form, the mandala appears as a series of concentric circles, its deities housed in a square structure with four elaborate gates, sometimes described as a four-sided palace or temple. Beginning with the outer circles, one often finds the following structure: a ring of fire, frequently depicted as a stylized scrollwork, which symbolizes the process of transformation necessary to enter the sacred territory within. This is followed by a ring of thunderbolt or diamond scepters (vajra), indicating the diamond-like, unchangeable nature of the mandala’s spiritual realms

The structure of a mandala typically consists of concentric circles with a central point. Here is a breakdown of the different elements commonly found in the structure of a mandala:

  1. Outer Circles: Mandalas usually have multiple concentric circles, starting from the outermost circle and moving inwards towards the center.
  2. Gateways: Within the circle, there are often four elaborate gateways or entrances, positioned at the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west). These gateways symbolize the entrance to a sacred space.
  3. Square Structure: The gateways are usually enclosed within a square structure. This square represents stability and order, providing a foundation for the mandala’s design.
  4. Inner Circles: As you move closer to the center, you’ll find additional circles with different patterns and motifs. These inner circles may contain intricate geometric designs, sacred symbols, deities, or other representations.
  5. Central Point: At the very center of the mandala, there is often a focal point or central image. This could be a deity, a symbol, or a geometric pattern that represents the essence of the mandala’s theme or purpose.
  6. Symmetry: Mandalas are known for their symmetrical design. The elements within the mandala are usually mirrored or repeated in a balanced and harmonious way, creating a sense of order and unity.

The overall structure of a mandala is intended to create a visual representation of balance, harmony, and wholeness. It is believed that by meditating on a mandala or creating one, individuals can achieve a sense of inner peace and spiritual connection.

Cosmological Mandala with Mount Meru

14th century

The elaborate tapestry-woven mandala, or cosmic diagram, illustrates Indo-Himalayan imagery introduced to China along with the advent of Esoteric Buddhism. At the center is the mythological Mount Meru, represented by an inverted pyramid topped by a lotus, a Buddhist symbol of purity. Traditional Chinese images for the sun (three-legged bird) and moon (rabbit) appear at the mountain’s base. The landscape vignettes at the cardinal directions represent the four continents of Indian mythology but follow the artistic conventions of Chinese-style “blue-and-green” landscapes. The dense floral border, with the four vases in the four corners, parallels the imagery of central Tibet, particularly monasteries with ties to the Yuan court.


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