The Sacred Circle
Art has, probably from human beings earliest attempts, often had an association with the spiritual and mystical elements of existence. Before the written word art and images were the way that human beings communicated experiences, culture and beliefs. Art continues to be a way in which many experiences in life which are beyond words can communicate between human beings, especially across cultures when language is not shared. In this first article in the series, we are looking at Mandala, a sacred and spiritual art associated with healing and meditation.
Mandala, which translates roughly as circle in Sanskrit, are artistic spiritual and ritual symbols present in many of the religions of the Indian subcontinent.
They represent the universe and can be seen most commonly in Buddhism and Hinduism, however they also appear in other religious iconography and have more recently been incorporated into some western psychological theories and practice.
Mandalas are used to focus the attention of practitioners and also as a form of worship through creation. The Mandala work of Tibetan Buddhist monks is becoming particularly well known. Monks combine the creation of Mandala with the technique of sand painting. Monks may spend days or weeks creating elaborate Mandala using this technique, usually in groups. Once the design has been completed it is usually swept away. This is to remind practitioners of the impermanence of everything. You can watch a video of this process here:
The Tibetan mandala is considered a spiritual tool and practice which aides the devotee to gain deeper wisdom and compassion. The designs are usually predefined and each one’s particular balanced, geometric patterns represent different deities and as a whole represent the oneness and wholeness of everything. Although Tibetan mandala share elements with other religious traditions, the sand mandala is particular to this tradition. The creation of the sand mandala is believed to work as a guide to help ordinary minds on their path to enlightenment as well as providing purification and healing. The process of sand mandala creation also incorporates specific music and mantra chants which transmit healing through the invocation of the blessing of the specific deities which live with the mandala.
In the Tantric tradition the mandala is used to totally absorb the attention of the practitioner during meditation. Through a process of total contemplation, the idea is that the practitioner should eventually be able to recreate a perfect visual image of the mandala in the mind.
When the sand mandala is finished, they are swept away. The impermanence of the work is to remind the practitioners and any audience of the impermanence of existence.
Although the Mandala is commonly associated with Eastern traditions, there are similar elements in Christian iconography such as the designs employed in stained glass window designs.
More recently Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst, pioneered the exploration of his own unconcious thought through art making and noted that the circle was a recurring spontaneous motif. Jung’s familiarity with Eastern religious practice led him to call these crawings “mandala” even though there are fundamental differences.
Many therapists since then have acknowledged that this type of structured artistic creation can reorder the inner state of the creator.