Tibetan monks creating an elaborate sand mandala

What is a Mandala?

“Mandala” is a Sanskrit word meaning “disk.”  It relates to various images where there are images (quite often symmetrical images) within a circle shape or an image where the circle is the most prominent attribute.  These images are found all over the world, are embedded into our cultural psyche.  The circle is probably one of the oldest images of mankind.

In Eastern traditions they are used often as a teaching and meditative practice.  In Tibetan Buddhism they create elaborate mandalas of colored sand to be brushed away when done, symbolizing impermanence.  The act of creating a mandala can be a meditation unto itself, or you can meditate while gazing at one.  In Christianity mandalas can be found in the form of a Celtic Cross, the halo, the rosary, etc.

The circle, with it’s complete symmetry, perfection, and endlessness has been thought to represent:

~The Human Spirit: inner nature
~The Feminine
~The Eternal
~The Mind

Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology, believed that the mandala was “an representation of the unconscious self” and used them often in his practice to help his patients maintain order in their lives.

I had to abandon the idea of the superordinate position of the ego. … I saw that everything, all paths I had been following, all steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point — namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the centre. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the centre, to individuation.

… I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.

– C. G. Jung. Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Why use the Mandala?

I think that for many people who want to create art but aren’t feeling particularly inspired or artistic it helps to have a place to start.  By creating something inside of a shape (like a mandala) it doesn’t seem as intimidating as a blank piece of paper.  The ability to create symmetry within a circle is endless and can lend itself to the new artist.

Especially for birth art the mandala is perfect because it is the shape of pregnancy itself.  The circle holds, for me at least, feminine energy and endless perfection.  It is soft and curvaceous and represents the continuation and cycle of new life.