Mandala is a geometric or organic form with strongly identifiable centre point from which outwardly radiating shapes, symbols and/or lines emanate. Most of us think of mandalas as circular formations. And, yes, the actual word mandala in Sanskrit language loosely means “a circle”, hence the association.
In various spiritual traditions, mandalas are employed for focusing attention of practitioners and adepts and as an aid to meditation. It is a sacred, respected and revered tool for establishing a sacred space and used as a spiritual guidance tool.
It is also fascinating that forms which are evocative of mandalas are prevalent in different cultural and religious traditions across the world and across the time.
Some years ago I witnessed the monks from the Sera Mahayana Buddhist Monastery creating the Sand Mandala of Compassion (Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara) in our own Santa Barbara Art Museum’s Davidson Gallery. The absolute brilliance of their concentration, their trained, devoted, precise hand movements and their compassion and calm was palpable in that room. I sat there with my 3 (then young) boys and we all went absolutely quiet. My 9 , 11 and 13 year old boys were still. Still! As a mountain lake, just still. I was moved and in awe, grateful and humbled. We were in the presence of something bigger than us and that was obvious even to my youngsters.
However, I also admit that I am in awe when I see the mandala formations in our everyday life- say… on the drain covers on a beautiful university campus, or a kid’s drawing on a stone, picked up from the local beach, or a flower pot, or school children paintings on “the pretend wind flags”, or ”wall art” made out of empty, differently sized boxes and glued to the wall, or a flower bed, planted in a concentric circles, resembling a mandala, or… the list is infinite. One can now buy coloring books and de-stress mandala drawing kits galore. You can choose to see it as trivializing the actual mandala idea or as “spreading the word” and opening that idea up to more people.
I believe that these two different ideas can co-exist , so, I invite us all to find mandalas in our daily lives, as well as use them for the deliberate practice of focusing inwards.
Since I started doing that, mandalas are now effortlessly appearing everywhere. These seemingly chance encounters with the sacred fill me with gratitude. And inevitably bring a miniature smile to my lips and a truly giant smile to my soul.
Contributed by Indra Strong
Photo Credit: Indra Strong