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About Mandalas
From snowflakes and Tibetan Buddhism to spiders' webs and
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Although the mandala form (and the term ‘mandala’) is most often associated with Tibetan Buddhist art, there are innumerable instances of it in every culture. The rose windows and labyrinths of medieval Christianity, the domed mosques and Sufi whirling dervishes of Islam, the temples of the Hindus, the sand paintings of the North American Indians, as well as the pyramids of Ancient Egypt and Central and South America, are all based on the same form, with its multiple symmetries radiating from a central point.

This is far from surprising, given the prevalence of the circle – and of radial symmetry – at every level of the natural world, from galaxies and solar systems, down through trees, flowers and fruits, jellyfish, spider’s webs and shells, rock crystals and snowflakes to micro-organisms, cells and subatomic particles. The recurring cycles of day and night, the seasons and the months of the year, as well as organic life cycles, reflect a similar pattern.

In essence, then, the mandala form is a visual expression of this universal ordering principle of nature, one of the ways in which humanity has sought to relate to and sum up the awesome universe of which we are a part. Mandalas are – sometimes literally – cosmic diagrams, attempts to represent the essential elements of the macrocosm in an ordered, coherent manner. (Derived from the Sanskrit words for ‘essence’ and ‘container’, the word mandala clearly reflects this vocation.)

Traditional belief systems have viewed the macrocosm beyond us as a reflection of the microcosm within us, so, by the same logic, the mandala has also been understood as a means of presenting the apparent chaos within our minds in an orderly way. On one level, Tibetan Buddhist mandalas are intended as symbolic depictions of the various emotions and energies inside the human being.

This microcosmic interpretation of the mandala was first introduced into western thought by CG Jung. He adapted it to fit the more individualistic trends in western psychology, using the many mandalas created by his psychiatric patients as an aid to understanding their mental states. Today, the creation of mandalas is widely used in psychotherapy and personal development work. Such mandalas are viewed as a concise and innately ordering form in which to express personal beliefs and feelings, and thus to reach a deeper understanding and harmony of the self.

The fact that all the components of a mandala must be organised around a central point means that it provides a clear diagrammatic representation of the self, and inevitably brings some sense of unity to its various components, however disparate. This harmonising, centring quality is the key to the function of the mandala in Tibetan Buddhism. The process of creating mandalas and the subsequent contemplation of them are first and foremost two equally valid forms of meditation – and both work through centring.

On the one hand, the concentric design, which is always created by working outwards from the centre, reminds the intellect that the universe, in all its diversity, is ultimately one, joined at the source. It also symbolises the fact that the spiritual quest is a journey back from the circumference that is the outside world, to the centre that is the space within ourselves. On the other hand, allowing the eyes to become lost in such a compelling and satisfying visual form, in which they are drawn back again and again towards the centre, the still point where all movement ceases, helps the meditator to calm the mind and fall into a silent and peaceful space.

Herein lies the powerful appeal of the mandala form – the pleasure the eye (and the mind) derives from gazing at such a perfectly resolved and centred structure. It intimates a sense of underlying order and harmony in an often chaotic world, and the eye, enthralled by its intricacy, can dance endlessly around and across the rhythmical patterns of the surface, knowing that it will be held safely within the magic circle of the design.

Let us not get too comfortable, however. It is a humbling thought that some of the most beautiful and elaborate of all mandalas are those created out of coloured sand by Tibetan Buddhist monks – only to be destroyed afterwards, as a symbolic reminder of the impermanence of all specific life forms.



 
 
Forms of Meditation
Tibetan Buddhist mandala in
temple in Varanasi, India
 
Tibetan Buddhist art
Galaxy
 
An applied art
Lotus
 
Traditional belief systems
Mandala in painted
Church dome in Romania
 
The word mandala
Tibetan Buddhist mandala in
temple in Bodhgaya, India
Hand-drawn geometries in a digitalised world
The mandalas that I make are, strictly speaking, then, an applied art: their function is as an aid to meditation, a sort of trap for the mind. Attracted by their vivid colours and the intricately puzzled tracery of their lines, the eye falls ensnared into a rhythmical spider’s web, dancing from line to line, while being ever drawn in towards the still point at the centre.

They are also cosmic diagrams of the inner structures of the universe: the marvellous perpetual dance between dynamism and stillness that holds the forces of nature delicately in balance, a natural ordering of forms that is dazzlingly fine, but not quite infallible – there are always small irregularities in the hand-drawn geometries of my mandalas. A machine-generated image would lack this ability to reflect the ‘hand-drawn’ symmetries of nature itself, with all its infinite marginal variations on its own themes. The eye – one of nature’s most miraculous hand-drawn precision tools – generously overlooks such small irregularities on the whole, though the persistent will always be able to find them.

The mandalas are all hand-drawn in pencil, working out from the centre (or, in a few instances, in from the circumference), on a grid of three, or more, concentric circles and a number of radiating lines. For a five-point mandala, there will be ten radiating lines, for an eight-point design there will be 16, and for a mandala with 12-fold symmetry, there will be 24 radiating lines in the grid.

Each element of the design is developed from what emerges when I allow my hand to doodle on the paper, so the mandalas grow outwards from the centre (or, in a few instances, in from the circumference), in a series of rings. There are no preparatory sketches. Until I reach the edge of the circle, I have no idea what the whole will look like, and I am often pleasantly surprised – very occasionally unpleasantly surprised – by the results.

This process of discovery is then repeated when I add the colours to the finished drawing – again I have no idea how it will look until I reach the outer edge of the design. Most of the mandalas are coloured with gouache paint (the earlier ones were painted with watercolour or acrylic), or/and gel or felt pens.

Sometimes, if working on a black background, the drawing is picked out with metallic pen, and stick-on bindis (cosmetic ornaments worn on the forehead by Indian women) are added to create a collage. Those bindi collage mandalas without any metallic pen lines were created by arranging the bindis directly into the drawn underlying grid.

To create the finished works available for view and for sale through this website, the hand-painted mandalas have been scanned and made into digital files. I have then taken each design and made a border for it using the gradient option in Photoshop.

This practice originally emerged as a way to take the mandala design out to the edge of a square frame in the digital files. I took great pleasure in choosing colours and gradients that enhance the painted originals, however, and now consider these computer-generated borders to be an integral part of the finished artworks.

Although I persist in creating the mandalas entirely by hand, I see no reason not to take advantage of technology to achieve the perfectly smooth fades of colour in these backgrounds, which somehow offset the slightly less than absolutely regular quality of the mandalas. These borders would be merely laborious to produce by hand and in any case do not form a part of the discipline of the mandala itself.


 
Appeal of the mandala form
Dance of Shakti
 
Mandala
The completed drawing of
The wheel of hours
 
Mandalas
Wheel of fortune - bindis
arranged in drawn grid
 
Mandalas
The garden within as a completed painting and as a Photoshop document with the gradient added.
 
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