John Porter, PhD, M.Ed.
This book is for everyone interested in learning methods to master stress and enhance the quality of their life. It is also a handbook for those who wish to understand and master such skills in order to teach them to others. Whatever your motivation, you will find that the ideas and techniques in this collection have been presented with an emphasis on practical application in our modern lives whilst preserving a sense of the depth and sacredness of such inner arts of mental development. I suggest that you consider these ideas with your mind, since their meaning for you in your heart, and test and confirm the power and practicality of these skills with your experience.
Mandala Therapy combines the art of tantric psychology, physiology, and social dynamics in working through and healing physical, psychological, and emotional problems. Mandala Therapy utilizes chakras, meditations, psychotherapy, and volition. The concept and model for “Mandala Therapy” were pioneered in the mid-1980s through the works and efforts of Dr. Glenn J. Morris.
Perhaps the most admired, discussed, and enigmatic symbol of Buddhism and art is the mandala, a word which, like guru and yoga, has become part of the English language. The word mandala is Sanskrit for whole world or healing circle. The mandala is a representation of the universe and everything in it. It is the most basic form in nature. Khyil-khor is the Tibetan word for mandala and means “Center of the Universe in which a fully awakened being abides.”
The mandala is a drawing made within the framework of a circle. Circles connect to human experience in many ways. Circles suggest wholeness, unity, the womb, completion, and eternity. The circle shape is a constant foundation of nature, from cells and atoms to planets and cycles. Cycles are innate in all of life; biological cycles, weather cycles, and planetary cycles.
Cultures from around the world have used circle drawings that have been found to use similar colours, shapes and symbols to express universal aspects of the human experience. The mandala originated as an art and meditation form, probably in ancient Tibet. However, the more one looks, the more one finds them in ancient cultures all over our planet. They can be found through the microscope looking at a snowflake, in the wheel of a bicycle and in the mysterious stone circles of ancient times. The mandala lies at the core of our human perception of what is whole, the beginning, the end, and the infinite.
Its commonality is emphasized by using the word mandala as a synonym for sacred space. It has gained validity through its presence in English-language dictionaries and encyclopedias. Both broadly define mandalas as geometric designs intended to symbolize the universe, and reference is made to their use in Buddhist and Hindu practices. Carl Jung is credited with rejoining our present understanding of the psychology and importance of the mandala.
The idea of the mandala originated long ago, before the idea of history itself. The earliest level of India’s religion is the Rig Veda and its associated literature. Here, Mandala is the term for a chapter, a collection of mantras or verse hymns chanted in Vedic ceremonies, perhaps coming from the sense of round, as in a round of songs. The universe was believed to originate from these hymns, whose sacred sounds contained the genetic patterns of beings and things, so there is already a clear sense of mandala as a world model.
The word “mandala” itself is derived from the root “manda”, which means “essence”. The suffix “la”, meaning “container” has been added. Thus, one connotation of mandala is that it is a container of essence. As an image, a mandala may symbolize both the mind and the body. In esoteric Buddhism, the principle in the mandala is the presence of the Buddha, but images of archetypes are not necessary. They may be presented as a wheel, a tree, a jewel, or any other symbolic manifestation.
In Eastern traditions, mandalas can be round or square. Mandalas can be used as a focus for meditation. They can be used as a way of getting to know yourself better. A mandala meditation can be a kind of self-exploration. In general, the art, symbols, and colour of a mandala will guide an individual from the distractions of the mind, the outer rim of the mandala, to a still center, the center of the mandala. This makes it a potent tool. In times of stress, you can use your mandala as a reality anchor. Whenever you feel you are losing grip, you simply visualize your mandala and concentrate on it.
The Tibetan mandala is a tool for gaining wisdom and compassion and is generally depicted as a tightly balanced, geometric composition wherein archetypes reside. The principal archetype is housed in the center. A mandala is a tool for guiding individuals along the path to enlightenment. Monks meditate upon the mandala, imagining it as three-dimensional. The archetypes who reside in the palace embody philosophical views and serve as role models. The mandala’s purpose is to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones.
It is well known that the mandala plays a major role in the esoteric form of Mahayana Buddhism, prevalent in Tibet. The mandala is a graphic representation of this esoteric yogic philosophy by means of which man’s alienation from himself, from Nature, and from God is overcome. In the esoteric Buddhism of Tibet, as in Tantric Hinduism, the general significance of the mandala is the interpenetration of the material and spiritual worlds, i.e., of samsara and nirvana.
Mandalas comprise the basic form in the most complicated and impressive structure and, at the same time, the most simple one. The mandala is the visualization of the Cosmic Law; everything is a mandala, the cell, the snow crystal, and the Earth. In modern times the awareness of the mandala can stimulate creative thinking and concentration and center us to the point where it is quiet and still.
The traditional mandala is a complex design used in religious practice for meditation or contemplation. The images are prescribed by tradition, drawn, painted, modelled as in sand sculpture, or danced. Plastic structures of this kind are to be found, for instance, in esoteric Buddhism, and as dance figures, these circular patterns occur also in Dervish monasteries.
Mandalas are used as tools for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants and are formed of a traditional prescribed iconography that includes geometric shapes and a multitude of ancient spiritual symbols. In general, all mandalas have outer, inner and secret meanings. On the outer level, they represent the world in its divine form. On the inner level, they represent a map by which the ordinary human mind is transformed into an enlightened mind. On the secret level, they depict the perfect balance of the subtle energies of the body and the clear light dimension of the mind.
Historically, spirituality is associated with the Christian tradition, and it is often hard for teachers to overcome so many negative assumptions, antipathetic to their educational goals, connoted by this fact. Spirituality was a term lost to religious education for some time, but recently a new debate has focused on the concept. The historical Buddha, the founder of Buddhism in India during the fifth century B.C.E., taught the impermanence of existence. Tibetan Buddhism, which developed in the seventh century, draws its main tenets from Indian Buddhism: individual enlightenment, the liberation of all beings, and the development of compassion and insight into the nature of reality.
The mandala’s purpose is its functional use in the reintegration of the practitioner. The process involves identifying the internal microcosmic mandala with the external macrocosmic one. This takes place in a process called internal reintegration. The practitioner proceeds to recognize within himself an internal mandala perceived as the chakras of the body. These chakras, each called a lotus of a certain number of petals, are located at the crown, head, throat, heart, spleen, navel, and root, and each is identified with a corresponding circle representing the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya of the macrocosmic mandala. Then through a psychic circulatory process, which proceeds through the Chakras, the practitioner eventually experiences Sunyata, the “non-dual state”. In this state, the practitioner is the dharmakaya; the microcosm is the macrocosm. The reintegration of the practitioner has been accomplished.
The concept of spirituality must be reassessed. It is central to our curriculum aims concerning personal development. The teaching of world religions does not have to be purely descriptive or reserved for older students. Rather, in the teaching and practices of different traditions, we find methods appropriate to spiritual development. In his book The Western Mandala, Adam McClean writes: “Mandalas can be seen as 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.”
There is 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, minds, and 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.
On the negative side, the Western approach has led to many egoistic evils and the resultant feelings of alienation from nature and other people. Yet, on the positive side, this Western attitude has contributed much to the betterment of human life in this world through technology. On the theoretical side, it has contributed significantly to self-conscious abstract laws and ideas of human rights that must be guaranteed to everyone. These technological contributions of the West and the Western ideal of human rights, the right to an adequate material standard of living and the right to equality in human dignity, have been felt in the East. Western culture, however, needs to learn from the East the aesthetic approach to man and nature, the intuition of the unity of all men, of all life, of the entire cosmos, which is the concept of Mandala Therapy.
Existentialism in philosophy, modern art, literature, and science, shows man either in a vertical state of groping in agony for some spiritual center of meaning for his life or trying to live a horizontal existence, one in which all values are of equal significance. The urgent psychological and philosophical need of Western man today is a return to the circle.
There is an emphasis on the fact that the central characteristic of Eastern philosophy is the non-technical, non-mathematical approach to an understanding of the universe. For this reason, the Eastern philosopher has never separated himself from nature as an outsider, nor has he tried to exploit and control nature as Western man has. The Eastern philosopher sees all the particulars of the universe as aspects of a spiritual unity of which he, himself, is also a part. Western philosophers, on the other hand, beginning with the Greeks, have taken an objective, mathematical, technological approach to nature.
There are also characteristic disagreements between East and West in relation to man’s place in the cosmos. The Eastern philosophies emphasize the Divine ineffable spiritual reality as the core and center of the universe (Jung’s spiritual pole); most Western philosophies, especially since the eighteenth century, are humanistic and place man in the center of the mandala.
The fact that all immediate experience is psychic and that immediate reality can only be psychic explains why it is that primitive man puts the appearance of archetypes on a plane with physical events. When the primitive world disintegrated into spirit and nature, the West rescued nature for itself. The East, on the contrary, took mind for its own and, by explaining away matter as mere illusion (maya), continued to dream in Asiatic filth and misery. But since there is only one Earth and one mankind, East and West cannot rend humanity into two different halves. Psychic reality exists in its original oneness and awaits man’s advance to a level of consciousness where he no longer believes in one part and denies the other but recognizes both as constituent elements of one psyche.
Mandala Therapy does not start with belief but with practice. It does not begin with a commitment to a creed but with a reflection on the human experience. The first step in Mandala Therapy is a reflection and observing and then training the mind to observe and reflect more skillfully. This process is referred to as bhavana, meaning “mental culture” or “mental development”. These qualities are clearly important to cultivate in any educational context. The significant aspect of this process that Buddhism emphasizes is to look within, to watch the mind itself as well as what the mind watches; to watch it at work and watch it at play; to use it skillfully as an instrument for exploring, understanding, and expressing ourselves and our potential.
This does not have to be a somber and introverted practice, as western connotations of mind-watching might suggest. It does not produce melancholy and introversion. It does not bring us to unreachable things lying dormant in the darker recesses of our character which, if we were to once glimpse them, would do irreparable harm. In fact, Mandala Therapy aims to give rise to happiness and confidence and enable us to live healthier lives, whatever our position in life.