Meeting the Mandala
by Clare Goodwin
Mandala is Sanskrit for whole world or healing circle.
It is a representation of the universe and everything in
it. Khyil-khor is the Tibetan word for mandala and means
"center of the Universe in which a fully awakened
being abides." Circles suggest wholeness, unity,
the womb, completion and eternity.
In Tibet, the process of creating a mandala is as
important as the finished product. It takes years of
preparation and training to gain the skill and knowledge
required to paint. Even when one is able to begin,
meditation for three days must occur before brush can be
put to canvas. So much for instant gratification!
There are many types of mandalas in Tibet, such as
"transmutation of demonic forces" and
"cosmic fortress" (Arguelles, Mandala). The
first type is recognized by its sinister images of fire,
dragons and warriors. The overall impression is one of
dynamic energy. In contrast, the "cosmic
fortress" creates a visual safe place, filled with
gods, goddesses, lotus and angelic beings. They are
there to protect and bless us as we tune into that
center within ourselves.
Sand mandalas are another type developed by Tibetan
monks. Intricate patterns reflect many levels of
understanding. The design is ritually prepared over a
period of days, then blown away to represent the
impermanence of life. The sand, which has been blessed
throughout the process, is seen to benefit the land and
rivers it comes in contact with. Tibetans believe that a
sand mandala contains the knowledge to achieve
enlightenment in this lifetime.
There is also a tradition of healing circles in the
west. Powerful symbolism is seen in Native American sand
paintings, medicine wheels and shields. Medicine wheels
represent the universe, change, life, death, birth and
learning. The great circle is the lodge of our bodies,
our minds and our hearts. Although there are many
parallels to the Tibetan mandala, Native Americans never
used the word mandala to describe their sacred circles.
In Europe, Hermetic mandalas, though usually linear,
may also be circular. Alchemy, the Kabbalah, geometry
and numerology play an important part of their design
and creation. In his book The Western Mandala, Adam
McClean writes "(Mandalas)...can be seen to be keys
that unlock the mysteries of our soul’s architecture.
If we choose to use them in this way, they can lead us
deep into the mysteries of our inner world."
The architecture of Gothic cathedrals shows another
way towards illumination. The stained glass rose windows
were built during times of plague and war. Like
mandalas, they were meant to be a symbol of the
enlightenment of the human spirit. Sitting in the
earthly darkness, contemplating the light pouring
through the inspired designs prompts a powerful
Our culture is familiar with mandalas primarily
because of the work of Carl Jung who became interested
in them while studying Eastern religion. Jung saw the
circular images his clients experienced as
"movement towards psychological growth, expressing
the idea of a safe refuge, inner reconciliation and
wholeness." For Jung, mandalas are
"vessels" into which we project our psyche. It
is then returned to us as a way of restoration. He
recognized that archetypes from many cultures were seen
in this spontaneous expression of the unconscious.
Circles are universally associated with meditation,
healing and prayer.
My own interest in mandalas developed out of an art
class assignment at Worcester State College in 1979.
Carl Jung and mandalas were mentioned in relation to our
project of circular/geometric paintings. From manhole
covers to ceiling tiles, suddenly I was seeing mandalas
everywhere. I even saw them take form in salads, quiches
and pies! Looking through my daughters’ kaleidoscope
became a favorite pastime. I was hooked.
To further my knowledge, I arranged an independent
study on mandalas. Seeking information for my paper, I
contacted Michael Brown who had given a workshop at
Omega Institute. He wrote back, "The only way to
truly understand mandalas is to draw them."
Happily, I took his advice. Another part of the
assignment was to paint a series of mandalas. It was
Christmas time and I decided to make them as gifts.
Instinctively, I put the person’s picture beside the
canvas and meditated a while (although I must admit my
meditation time was considerably shorter than the three
days required for the Tibetans!). When painting, I
listened to their favorite style of music. The results
were amazing and the idea of personal mandala portraits
There are many ways to connect with mandalas. Each
culture has developed specific methods and added meaning
to the process. There is no absolute correct way. We
must each find our own path to the center. Meditating
with and creating mandalas is a wonderful way to enhance
the journey. As the Tibetan monk Lobsang Samtem states:
"Each individual person who sees and meets the
mandala has a different experience." May your
encounters with mandalas be filled with deep
understanding and peace.
- Mandala by Jose and Miriam Arguelles. Shambhala
Publications, Inc., 1972.
- Mystery of Mandalas by Heita Copony. Theosophical
Publishing House, 1989.
- Mandala Symbolism by Carl G. Jung. Translated by
R.F.C. Hull, Bollingen Series, Princeton University
Copyright © 1993
by B. Clare Goodwin. All rights reserved.
Clare Goodwin is a humanistic astrologer, therapist, tarot reader, and artist living and
working by a beaver pond in Belchertown, MA. Her Mandala website is considered one of the
definitive sites about the subject of mandalas on the web today. For those wanting further
study, Clare offers "Making Meaning with the Mandala Correspondence Course". She also teaches
in the Professional Counselor Training Program and is an affiliated therapist at the Synthesis
Center in Amherst, MA. She does intuitive counseling in person or by phone. Contact her at
413-323-0083 or email@example.com. Her website is
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