Mandalas – Maps of Consciousness
The meaning of the word Mandala (Sanskrit) has been expressed as ‘completion’, ‘circle’, and ‘from the many into one’.
From the perspective of a mandala artist, I would agree with each of the above definitions, and add my own elements of descriptive taxonomy, namely: circular topography/mapping, guidance/signposts. Through the course of this short illustrated essay I shall endeavour to weave a thread through the tapestry of mandalas, and embroider my interpretation with meaning.
Drawing a mandala helps to stabilise, integrate and order one’s inner life – a creative meditation, birthing a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which form manifests.
‘Mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart, design or circular pattern that represents the microcosm or macrocosm from a human perpsective’ – Wikipedia
The term was first introduced into the English language in 1859, and has subsequently gained considerable interest through the integration of Eastern philosophical and spiritual cultures, and the recognition of the primacy of the circular form, in all ancient and contemporary cultures.
My illustrated journey begins at source, and here I have captured the pure living spring waters, arising from their journey though the long, dark, secret depths of the Earth to enter the world of light and colour, having traversed innumerable, labyrinthine, fractal twists and turns of Gaia’s inner mystery.
And this is where the mandala artist begins. From the mysterious internal labyrinths within the mind, meaning seeks expression and communication, and thus the invisible is rendered visible, though pen and paper of the scribe.
Whatever the truth of the history of our universe, the artist has always referred to the totality as that of a sphere or circle, and in this conscious expression of the solar system, as depicted by Copernicus, the heavens and Earth, and thus all known by mankind are related through the circular mandala form.
Though the process of mandala might not have been known by the early illustrators of the Macrocosmica, nevertheless it became the ubiquitous talisman of depiction.
Here, in this early map of the world, one can see the beauty of the circular form, and the system of management that serves the illustrator as a holding formation, and perhaps this form of rendering, in what one might describe as primitive, begat and still potentiates a reference to a flat earth.
My own thoughts on this rather strange current phenomena of philosophy (i.e. flat earth v spherical earth), is that it is merely a distraction.
The arrangements of early stone formations, perhaps created as solar clocks or time referencing devices, hold witness to the prevalence of the power of the form of stone circles. Imagined, transported and laid in formation, seemingly in desire for longevity and duration, these large scale mandalas remain as a testament to the frequent relationship of the circle and the artist.
Tibetan Buddhist monks spend several days painstakingly creating their magnificent, psychedelic, yet profound manifestations of the sand mandala, only to have them wiped out in a moment by the purposeful brush of the hand, that signal 2 intentional messages.
Primarily to create a deeper inner understanding and relationship to the potential of the inner and outer mandalas of Vajrayana Mahamudra, and secondly the futility of a mind that relates to permanent phenomena.
Longchenpa, a Lineage Guru of the Nyingma School describes a mandala as – ‘an integrated structure, organised around a unifying centre.’
Arising from nowhere in the later 20th Century, a relatively unexplained phenomena began to reach the collective consciousness. Known as crop circles, mandala forms began to appear in fields, overnight, that many expressed as manifestations of alien communication, faerie magic or visual biotopes of Gaia.
Whatever the truth of the creation of crop circles, I find myself smiling at the gathering conversations aligning ’twixt mandala and sacred geometry, and the subconscious communication of meaningful expression.
Something is speaking, and something is listening.
Often alignments are created purposefully, as in this example, where 2 mandala artists (Keith Beaney and myself) collected seeds, fronds, berries and leaves in a reverential collation and juxtaposition, as an offering of service and gratitude to the abundance of nature.
Here, the expression of the journey of the soul, though the jaws of the Lord of Death, Yama, has been painted in thanka form to serve as guidance for practitioners of the Buddhist Path, illustrating the 6 realms of existence, and the temporary nature of the illusion of life.
Buddha is seen outside of the mandala, offering the artistic expression that the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) can be broken, and thus Liberation and Enlightenment possible.
Here too, the possibility of Salvation through realisation is served through the creative expression of the Christian Path, witnessed in the rose window, to be found in the East wall of churches, capturing the Rising Sun (Son) through a kaleidoscope of light and colour, mirroring the potential of Spiritual Realisation.
Travelling the dimensions, from wall to ceiling, the reference and use of mandalas are furthered by the geometric genius of the Islamic artists who created countless domes for their Mosques, as a symbol of union with creation/creator (Allah), above the crowns of the faithful worshippers.
And too, below our feet, where the Persian masters of carpet making distilled their patience, craftsmanship and service to perfection by re-iterating the mandala form as the loci of attention within the rooms of the great palaces of the Middle East.
So we see, in these expressions of the Higher Consciousness, mandalas all around us, built into the environment of higher purpose.
To the far ends of the Earth, where the Dream Time called the ancients to witness the birth of the Universe, and to celebrate the connection of souls, in unity and harmony, with this cosmological map of expression, where all is known within and around the mystery of the interior.
Here, collated and identified, in the union circular form of the Medicine Wheel of the North American traditions, I see relationships to the ubiquity of the mandala that has served the great traditions throughout the world, that represent aspects of the totality of life.
Enter the Labyrinth. Journey into the sanctum within, by walking the convoluted path of confusion, obscuration and abandonment, mirroring the lobes of the brain, which serve to subliminally disorient the traveller, by loosing direction and reference, to find oneself at the centre of being, unravelling the knots of physical entanglement.
Thus identifying soul and purpose.
Pivotal in the translation of the inner topography of Western psychology, Carl Jung recognised the potential of representing the inner mystery through artistic rendition, by usage of the mandala. Above is what was recorded to be his first mandala.
I can see referencing to all the previous expressions I have illustrated in this essay, a mirroring of both macrocosm and microcosm.
This series of expressions were journalled in his famous ‘Red Book’ where his own explorations and union of the inner and outer worlds were recorded and described, creating the basis of Jungian psychology. And I, in my own way, have embarked upon a long journey of self-referencing explorations, whereby the topography of inner space is being peeled, layer by layer (a la onion), as I endeavour to reach Source.
Jung on mandalas – ‘A representation of the unconscious self that works towards wholeness of personality… an archetypal image which has endured throughout the ages’
All around the mandala is found, with both literal and esoteric potential explanations, a call to go where one wilt, on the footpath of understanding, by entering the silent, complex, dark space within.
For the mandala artist, where inner space meets outer space is the tip of the pen. The stylus that reverberates with the energetic vibration of the union of all, that exists in we, dwellers on the threshold.
And should you wish to continue, I shall now share aspects of what I might describe as my ongoing ‘Red Book’.
Each mandala artist has their own methodology of creation. I sometimes sketch out the outlines of my intention, and offer gemstones and talismanic physical structures in preparation of final alignment, a 3 dimensional methodology to capture light, energy and suggestion.
This image shows the finished mandala, that was the resultant effect of a 5 year project, called ‘Imaginary Medicines’, that in this instance was a wish to manifest an alchemical suggestion of how cancer might be addressed, both in terms of the physical sufferings, and also the cancers of anger, jealousy, hatred, ignorance and samsara itself.
Mandala Sun – A Poem
My messenger of painted air
has alchemised a signet key
that opened up the spiral stair
upon this golden dawn.
Thus captured upon inner eyes
the sun’s mandala brings surprise
of recognition to the child within.
Kaleidoscopic magic’s light
that activates the third eye’s sight
and raises love to hold entranced
our lover’s sense
in paradise we danced.
The glowing power of truth and light
expressions of the Goddess might
seduce those held in fear of death
anticipating life’s last breath.
So – exhale and breathe her sensual form
that balances both sun and moon
in velvet hues that capture you
embraced, and warmed in swoon.
Her flames are lithe
with tendrils reaching deep inside
they coil, entwine
and supplicate the holy wine you proffer her.
Through honey’d gauze
her light afire
I witness open eyed the pyre
but earn the wisdom she inspires
to ease my soul.
For within resides the potential. The truth that each soul enjoys and the capacity for Gnosis or self-realisation, whereby ultimate communion and communication with all that is, is no mere dream, but actuated as reality.
In this mandala, I have referred to the analogy of the seed and the catalytic spark of awakening, captured in the maverick and unconventional representation of the seed syllable BAM (the seed syllable of Vajrayogini).
From early records of both Tantra and Yantra, the Sri Yantra has been considered to be the essence visual rendition of the primordial word OM – sound captured as image, as known in the science of cymatics.
I have referenced the connection between the geometries of the Sri Yantra and the Pyramids in a playful manner, suggesting that the Pyramids might have been raised by the sound of the Primordial OM.
Perhaps, just perhaps, that most famous of sounds bears relationship to all manifestation on Earth, as been suggested by the Vedic Scriptures.
The mysticism of the Eastern Traditions is referenced in the usage of the sacred mandala, as here, in the Hindu Pantheon is Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles, visualised as a powerful elephant, able to power through barriers to spiritual understanding.
Recording the signs of birth, the astrologer observes the relative positions of the influencing planets and moons, and describes their alignments with the 12 constellations.
This birth chart is the mandala record of a moment of birth, a sacred moment, captured.
The circle drawn on paper can appear with movement and depth, as the light and angle of perception is altered, and with the added use of amethyst gemstones, vortices begin to manifest, in a psychedelic manner.
And the motion is captured and held, from the central point, from which the balance is drawn from the external world, to be held within the heart chakra, as a visual metaphor of the living experience.
Whilst all around is moving and swirling, within the limitless distance of space, the artist keeps focus and attention, stilled and refined, balancing the inner with the outer, upon the loci of the stylus.
An Axis Mundi.
For the myriad complexity of the interweaving patterns of energy are vast and uncountable, stretching throughout space-time, whereby each connected thread responds, though mysterious and hidden, and thus karma weaves the threads of life.
To a flowering of the fruits, whereby the ripened effects manifest in our lives, and as the gardener knows, from seeds come fruits, and for pure ripened fruits, we shall require perfected seeds.
And what should we truly wish for? It is love.
Love is like a box of chocolates.
For then, the power of our love shapes our lives, and shapes our world too.
Through every heartbeat and pulse love will echo across the invisible expanse, and surge beauty into the lives of others.
Deeper into the matrix, as the double torus beckons ever inwards, and the delicacy of engagement grows stronger, to serve the mandala maker as an expression of growth and regeneration.
To reach the complexity of expression, of the contemporary medicine wheel, where the processes are aligned and attuned to the direction of growth for the healers of this world.
To birth the expansion and rebirth of Sacred Spirit, through the union of outer and inner paths.
For now there is no more denial.
Yes. You. Can.
Every chord is part of the choir of souls.
And every voice carries the wishes of creation.
The Mystic Council of Elders gather at the time of Solstice, sat in meditative equipoise, balanced and awaiting the new dream-time.
For the Yoginis and Yogis sit, in service.
And this artist pauses to communicate with you.
But all is impermanent.
Time advances, seasons change, as do appearances.
The creation of the mandala continues, as here, in the traditional 37 point Buddhist Mandala Offering, offered within the sanctuary garden.
To gather energies once again, in preparation for dispersal, as the medicines enter the flow of the golden waters of life.
To return once again to source, as the gateway of the great mystery.
Potentiating return, with the brilliance of a 1000 dancing dragonflies, displaying the impossible beauty of sight.
The mandala maker is both you, and I.
The wheel of life continues, until samsara ceases.
Mandalas are visual manifestations of a sub-conscious universal language, as is Sacred Geometry.
We flow down river, drifting downstream to travel back to source, for the end is the beginning.
Flow arises from within, though stilled waters run deep.
Draw your own mandala, be your own mandala – uncover your secrets.
Challenge and reveal your daemons.
Encounter your soul.
Illuminate your shadow.
Reveal your inner mystery.
Unravel the complex weave.
Loosen the knots and slip your bonds.
Alpha is Omega.