Monday, September 12, 2011

THE MANDALA: Seeking the Sacred -- Sacred Art

Rangoli * Photo Credit: Simona Rich Site Link
Back in May, while cruising the on-line  travel photo albums of my Facebook contacts, I came across a pic that caught my eye and stayed in my head. Simona Rich (an internet e-book marketer, personal development coach and fellow blogger) posted a photo she took at an ashram (a spiritual centre where people gather to meditate and pray) in Surat, India. The picture portrayed an intricate circular design created out of coloured sand. I asked her if she knew of it's specific meaning and purpose...she did not, but another of her blog FOLLOWER's, Anupriya Singh of India (who attends Massachusettes U. in Lowell MA), posted a link for me and offered her expertise and knowledge of anything Indian (thank you Anupriya). Her link took me to the Wikipedia page for rangoli -- traditional Indian folk art. Constructed on living-room floors and in the courtyards of Indian homes, they are believed to attract and welcome deities and to bring good fortune. They are considered sacred. The symbology used in the designs  is ancient, passed down through the generations. These designs are created on a daily basis, as they are swept away at the end the day and thrown into a body of water, in recognition of the fact that all in physical life is impermanent.

Intrigued, I continued to dig around on the internet to research this spiritual practice. I believe now that Simona's picture triggered something intuitive in me, some primordial knowledge I was not consciously aware of, that added fuel to the flames of my soul-fire. From link to link I kept looking until I came to some sites that were related to mandala's...

The Pocket Oxford Dictionary (1996, 9th Ed.: Oxford U. Press) defines a mandala to be a circular figure used as a religious symbol of the universe. It is a Sanskrit word -- of the ancient and sacred Hindu language. On the Exotic India Art site (Site Link) the newsletter archives revealed that the root word is manda -- meaning essence; to which la was added -- meaning container. So a mandala is an artistic expression of a container of essence.

Further research informed me that the ancient use of mandala's was spiritual in nature and is historically credited to the Bhuddist belief system, and adapted into use by the Hindu belief. Spiritually, it is associated with both the universe and the soul -- or the outer and the inner beings.

As representative of the outer dimensions the mandala portrays not only our planet, our solar system and our universe, but also the minutest particles that we now understand all is composed of -- the atom -- pure energy.

The mandala as representative of the inner dimension shows our human condition -- from it's outer circumference into it's middle start-point (a dot -- an infintesimally small circle) it portrays our struggle to understand ourselves in relation to our origin; and from that origin point to the outer circumference it portrays our struggle to relate to and understand all else that exists.

Segmented into quadrants the mandala leads to an understanding of our duality in both dimensions (and without doubt the Taoist mandala, the Yin Yang symbol of duality, is the most universally recognized symbol of the dualist tradition). There is above and below, before and behind which can be related to birth and death, male and female, good and evil, rich and poor, infinity and impermanance -- each a reflection of the other. Without this duality there is nothingness, none...a void.

Fibonacci images downloaded
from Wikipedia

Sacred geometry or mathematics, within the circumference of the circle, is an integral element of the traditional mandala. In the Yin Yang symbol the sacred Fibonacci number sequence is in evidence in it's dual spirals. The spiral, which follows a proven mathematical sequence, occurs throughout the natural world. It is a repetitive pattern of life. It is interesting to note that although this number sequence and the equivalent spiral is named after Leonardo Fibonacci, an Italian mathematician from Pisa, it was actually a sequence that was recognized through the application of a Hindu-Arabic number system that had been developed between the 1st and 5th centuries. It was considered to be a Sacred Sanskrit number system. Recognizing the ease of use of this 0-9 number system, over the Roman number system in use in the Western world at the time, Fibonacci spent considerable time and energy learning this system by travelling throughout the Meditarranenan region, and points east, to seek out the Eastern mathemeticians who could teach him what they knew. He then introduced this superior system to the Western world, and it eventually replaced the Roman numeral system. In his book Liber Abaci (published in 1202) Fibonacci explained that the sequence begins with 0 and 1. Added together it equals 1, when the last number is added to the number before it in the sequence it adds up to the next sequential number, in this case 2. The sequence of Fibonacci numbers continues in that order:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987...........

The Fibonacci Spiral
Fibonacci explained how this sequence can be related to the spiral symbol by tiling the sequence numbers and then connecting each tile using a curve on the opposite corner of each square. In this orderly fashioning of squares and curves the spiral emerges.

He also showed how this pattern of life occurs in the natural world:
Pineapple images downloaded
 from Wikipedia

As in the pineapple: one can see where a repetitive 5-parallel sequence spirals around the pineapple. As well as an 8-parallel sequence spiral (not shown), and finally a 13 parallel sequence spiral. Hereby, the Fibonacci number sequence comes into natural play and order with the Fibonacci numbers of 5, 8 and 13.

Daisy image downloaded from Wikipedia
 Or in the daisy: here you can visually see the spirals created by the naturally occuring inner parts of a simple daisy...but is it really so simple? Or is it evidence of the intricate Divine in the grand scheme of nature? Did these mathematical thoughts just occur in the human mind? Or is it intuitive primordial knowledge that each and every one of us is born with and which is contained, deeply rooted, in our own "container of essence"....our higher consciousness....our soul? What inner whisperings did the earlier creators of the Sanskrit number system of 0-9 listen to in order to develop their system and then to take notice of the numerical sequence; and furthermore to then notice that this sequence occurs naturally throughout the world around us -- not only in flowers and fruit, but in shells, in geological formations, in water waves, in sound waves, in light refraction and even in snowflakes and ice crystals. And what inner whisperings did Fibonacci listen to in order to so enthusiastically pursue that knowledge, in what one could only imagine would be difficult travel scenarios in the late 1100's? And to then introduce that system as the mathematical knowledge the world now uses in every facet of living? Gives some pause for thought doesn't it?

Geometric shapes other than circles and spirals, such as triangles and squares are also extensively incorporated into most mandala designs. The purpose of these spiritual mandala's was to use them to focus one's thoughts; to quiet the mind, to reach an inner space of stillness wherein one could seek God. Rather than allowing the mind to jump around erractically (like a crazed monkey, as Buddha said), focusing on the repetitive patterns within the Sacred Circle of the mandala can bring one to a state of anxiety-free quietude; a space where it is possible to just listen...listen for that inner voice....listen for that intuitve knowledge....listen for that current of Infinity.
At the Sayyida Rouqqaya Mosque in Damascus, Syria
Photo Credit: Jaqueline Mulders, 2011
My cousin (right), an extensive traveller;
 Jacqueline wanders this world and posts pictures of
places that inspire wonder and awe
Is the religious use of mandala's restricted to Eastern spiritual beliefs, rituals and practices? Certainly not. Almost all religions and faith systems make use of the mandala in one form or another.

Muslim worshippers of Allah reverently offer their devotions under mosque domes decorated in beautifully rendered sacred mandala's. Known by the Islamic art form of arabesque the stylized use of geometrical and vegetal repetitive patterns is said to be indicative of the nature of God: unified, transcendent and infinite. Not only is the use of this sacred art form applied in religious settings, but it also appears in other areas of everyday life: in rug-making, pottery, carving, stonework, etc. It seems that mandala's are pervasive in every-day Islamic life.

In Christian renderings, sacred mandala art can be found in many variations. Thousands of Catholic Cathedrals, as well as other Christian churches and chapels world-wide, carry this form of sacred art in the beautifully pieced-together stained-glass images that are most often wrought in some form of mandala.
The beautiful Rose Window at
Notre Dame. Downloaded from Wikipedia.

Devotees walking the
Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth, France
Downloaded from Wikipedia.
There are other Christian symbols that can be related to the mandala: the halo, the Host (or the communion wafer) and the Celtic cross.  All are circular, or have a circular element, and all represent divinity.

The medieval Christian prayer paths, also known as labyrinths, are also  found on many cathedral floors and/or church-grounds. The labyrinths are large -- often as big as a good-sized room. The paths are walked by devotees who use them to focus their prayers and meditations. It is said that it is helpful to walk the path from it's outer edge to the centre, that it brings one closer to one's inner being, closer to God. A path walker enters the labyrinth and follows the path around and around, with each circuit leading closer to the center. Once in the centre, there is room to sit in contemplation. One leaves the circle by following the path back out. Modern marketing has seen the development of personal labyrinths one can trace with a finger, a sort of desk-top version. Again, it is meant as a focussing tool to bring the mind into spiritual focus, to help find the inner peace required for contemplation of the Divine.

The same use of the circular representation for the physical and spiritual dimensions can be found in most native cultures and spiritual beliefs around the world. In Bighorn, Wyoming the ancient medicine wheel, or sacred hoop, was constructed on the ground using rocks and stones by the Objiwa and the Assinniboine nations. In locations throughout the US there are remains and indications of other medicine wheels. These sacred circles had less to do with biological healing, and were more focussed on spiritual healing. They were in use possibly as far back as 7,000 years, and perhaps even dated back to pre-historic times -- or since the dawn of time. The Hopi people, of northeastern Arizona, also adhere to the spiritual practice of dedicated medicine wheels. Their traditional meaning represents the four directions (north, east, south and west), the four basic elements of life (air, water, fire and earth), the four colours of humanity (red, white, yellow and black), and also include specific animal totems. Indiginous peoples in Australia make use of a circle that is associated with the creator-spirit, Baiame, of their belief system. It is called a  Bora Ring, and it is especially significant in the initiation rights of a boy's passage into manhood.

These same sacred hoops are found in Canada, most notably in Alberta where it is said the highest documented remains of ancient medicine wheels are located: over seventy individual wheels. It is reported that outside of Brooks, Alberta there is a sacred hoop that has been dated to over 5,000 years old, which was specifically aligned with the movement of the sun and the summer/winter soltices. Dubbed Canada's Stonehenge by author Gordon Freeman, it purpotedly predates the Egyptian pyraminds.

And then of course there are the Mayan and Aztec calendar rounds; remarkably similar in design to all the other mandala's world-wide. And let's not forget the wheel of the zodiac, a mandala most people are aware of and have seen all their lives....the representation of the celestial universe and all that moves within it, in Divine order, including humanity.

Carl Jung 1875 - 1961
Image downloaded from Wikipedia
Outside of mankind's spiritual use of these sacred circles,
Carl Jung, the renown pioneer of psycho-analysis treatment, conducted extensive research into the use of mandala's as a form of art therapy.

Coming from a childhood rooted in dysfunction, Jung grew up seeking inner stability to create a balance within himself. As a young lad he implemented certain personal rituals that gave him peace of mind. One such ritual involved a tiny wooden figure he had carved himself, a stone he had painted in upper and lower halves, and small written messages he would bundle together and stash in a secure, secret hiding place. Whenever his disruptive external life would threaten to unhinge his personal equilibrium he would retreat to his secret space to find the inner peace that would allow him to shake off the anxieties created by the outer turmoil.

Later, when Jung began to study psychiatry he realized that his personal childhood ceremony was , in fact, an archetypical response rooted in the collective unconscious of human experience. For millenia, long before he stashed his little power bundle of peace in its secret hidey-hole in the attic, both individually and communally, mankind had practiced similar rituals and ceremonies to calm the storm within, in order to relate rationally with the external. As a little boy, Jung had no way of having gained any information about prior use of such a talisman; it was just something that occurred to him from deep within. And that calling from within, led him within, to where he found peace.

Jung's life-long thirst for knowledge and understanding of the human condition led him on a study of world religions. He felt that, deep down inside, people can not ignore the calling of a Divine voice: that to do so works against the psyche. He delved into Christianity, Hinduism, Bhuddhism, Gnosticism and Taoism and became aware of the mandala. Another archetype, Jung thought it to be symbology that somehow filters its way into the sub-conscious to be utilized by humanity throughout the ages. Jung felt a deep kinship with the use of the mandala. He had begun drawing his own personal mandala's, after dreaming of one, and found it to be another useful tool to create an inner space of peace. He suggested to his colleagues that mandala's be introduced into their psychiatric practices as a form of art therapy.  He himself made use of art therapy and mandala colouring extensively in his practice. He felt it had real power to alleviate psychic pain, to bring one inside oneself, and heal the wounds of emotional and mental abuse.

In the begining of this article I wrote that I believed Simona's picture of the rangoli awoke some primordial knowledge in me. So I shall end this piece with what I think is proof of that assumption:

In October of 2010, the 11th day of that month to be exact (Thanksgiving Day, here in Canada), I sat at my dining room table doodling a logo for one of the Serene Promotions (TM) business ideas under development. Once the WAY-FINDER WEEKLY publication is up and running (hopefully by end September), and the Single-Parent Re-entry Student Grocery support fund is operational....the next business move will be to open up an internet-cafe/study-hall. It is to be called OPEN YOUR EYES CAFE or the OYE CAFE for short. As I was uploading the mandala pictures for this piece, the bright light went off in my head and I remembered that logo. Inadvertently, six months before Simona's picture sparked a little quest for knowledge about that rangoli, I had somehow utilized that primordial knowledge in the creation of that logo, and without realizing it (until just now as I am finishing this article) I had created a mandala of my own. I now see that I had acknowledged, deep within my spirit, the path that was chosen for me -- "a path that will prosper me and not harm me, a path that gives me hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11)...a path that will allow me to be of service to my community and my fellow man.

A final point: after I began this little mandala quest I found three discarded copies of a magazine (still in their plastic shipping wrap) in an apartment move-out pile, in my building's basement (often times, when foreign students complete their studies they just board a plane and return home, leaving their Canadian belongings behind, which the maintenance crew has to clear out. I up-cycle a lot of excellent stuff out of those piles!). You'll never guess what the name of the magazine was......MANDALA: The Official Publication of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition....LOL, just a little synchronicity....but that is another article altogether...SYNCHRONICITY: The Sacred, Crossing Your Path

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