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Buddha Mind - get one, be one.


Mandalas have largely evolved as a meditation object and underlying all approaches to meditation is the aim of strengthening awareness - that ability to be present in the moment and to know the nature, the full extent, of that moment. The mind can so easily drift from this moment and the main way to strengthen the ability to hold it is by developing various concentration techniques. [see: LIFESTYLE - MEDITATION + ACTIVITIES - MEDITATION]. In Theravadan scriptures mandalas are referred to as kasina (= all, complete, whole). Ten are mentioned in the Suttas: earth, water, fire, wind, blue, yellow, red, white, space and consciousness. The Visuddhi Magga also mentions limited-space and light as a further two. They are generally quite simple - e.g. a blue disk (e.g. painted, or of cloth or flowers) or a sod of earth or a bowl of water. The most complex forms are found in the Tibetan tradition - notably the sand mandalas.


4 natural styles

simple centering

4 more like this

3 classics

4 kids

4 colour in

Making a more complex mandala can be an exercise in concentration in itself and the relationship of various elements and their meaning can used as material for ongoing contemplation. This is creating a symbolic or universal mandala. They can also be be used as a tool in psychotherapy - exploring emotions, attitudes, relationships, etc. through art and the use of different materials, colours, etc. This is more related to the dynamics of making a 'personal' mandala and won't be considered here. Having said that it is not really possible to make black and white distinctions between the two and the paradox of personal = universal lurks in shadows which I will not disturb here. This item looks mainly at the practical aspects of how to make a mandala.

Its function as a meditation object:
Any meditation object needs to be significant or stable enough to hold interest or attention - it should centre the energy of the mind. A mandala provides a very tangible, external centre. For those of a mentally unsteady nature a small one is suitable; a large one for a dull nature; a beautiful one for an angry (negative, self deprecating) nature and an ugly one for a lustful nature - or inclusive combinations. The style of your mandala should be primarily according to what is useful rather than what you like.
The basic construction is a square (the earth) containing a circle (the heavens) - we are on and of the earth and contain 'heaven', the spiritual, the Truth. Both shapes have a shared centre and the nature of their primary geometry draws the eye to this as we are naturally drawn to Truth. The addition of four arrows retains the symmetry and strengthens the centre.
The two factors which determine the design of a mandala are: centre + symmetry.

Here is a transcription of classic mandala practice:
"At first one should fix the whole attention on the disk as the initial object and so produce 'preliminary concentration.'
While constantly gazing at the disk, one must strive to remain mentally alert and awake to avoid hypnotic sleep. One must also keep from the mind all outside impressions and thoughts of other objects as well as any internal impressions or thoughts - the disk alone exists and all around seems to disappear. Now, whether the eyes are open or closed one perceives the mentalised disk - this is the 'acquired image.' As soon as this becomes steady and vanishes no longer and remains fixed in the mind one should move away from the mandala and continue the exercise. As one strengthens the mental image it becomes continually steadier and brighter until it can be seen as the 'counter-image.' This is the arising of 'neighborhood concentration.' Continuation of this exercise will eventually produce 'attainment concentration' which can lead to higher states of absorption."

The other aspect of using a mandala is the sense of 'pilgrimage' involved. As one moves toward the centre - symbolic of the spiritual journey - one has to pass through various stages (rites of passage, purification, obstacles, hindrances, delusions, etc.). These can be symbolically represented on your mandala. A classic example of this is the Wheel of Life which contains enough information to warrant a page of its own -

Factors to consider in the planning stage:
How many people will be involved - this determines size and complexity.
Size will affect variety and quantity of materials required.
Where will it 'live' and for how long?
*VERY* important! Who is in charge; is it pre-planned, led or a small core or just 'as it happens'?

Mark out the boundary - this is the square. The degree of precision is very much determined by the choices you make on the above. Determine the centre and mark it - what you use at this stage can change radically but make sure you know where it is; especially on big ones. Unless you have a very clear, predetermined pattern it is useful to lay out a few grid lines to symetrically divide the space. A circle, or several circles can be included at this stage. Fill in the rest. Meditate.

Kaleidoscopes make a lotus variation. There are various PC programmes which will produce mandala, lotus, fractal type images.

Many pages have been written about the relationship of different geometries, symbols, materials, etc. as used in a mandala. If you are keen to explore using mandalas it would be worth your while tracking down a few. You could start by reading this well written article by Ceci Huster - there is a comprehensive bibliography at the end.

There are many aspects of the mandala to be found in the principles of stupa construction. To give breadth to the above - especially if you were considering 3D mandalas - see: ART & CULTURE - STUPA; particularly the stupa booklet which has a specific section on stupas as mandalas.

When you have some understanding of basic mandala principles the best thing to do is start making one. Begin with simple designs and try meditating with one. Experiment, explore, get enlightened. Yo.