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What is a mandala? It is a design which uses images and geometric designs to create a visually balanced pattern with a dominant theme in the center. Generally the term refers to any such design which is used in meditation and rituals (particularly in Hinduism, Buddhism, and yantra yoga); some of the images might depict religious icons, deities, and personal symbolism. Below are two examples of mandalas:
Mandalas are symbolic. Each part of the mandala represents one of the forces in our lives; the mandala's pattern depicts the interplay of these forces. These elements are arranged symmetrically, to express the ideally organized, balanced, and unified functioning of our mind, our affairs, and the universe. In this unity, some mandalas depict "opposites," such as Tantric Buddhism's "wrathful deities" and "peaceful deities" -- or a psychotherapy patient's "conscious mind" and "unconscious mind." When we create a mandala, the particular arrangement of elements characterizes our psychological and spiritual state at that moment; Jung discovered that when his schizophrenic patients were in their worst condition, their artwork often depicted mandalas, in an apparent attempt to bring order -- as portrayed by the mandalas -- into their psychological chaos.
A mandala is a geometric design. The word "mandala" means "circle"; most mandalas are circles. However, the inside of the circle often contains a "quaternity" (as Jung called it) -- a four-sided geometric form such as a square, which could symbolize the totality of the directions of east, north, west, and south. The center (i.e., the "bindu") portrays the Self, or the primary deity, or another symbol of wholeness or enlightenment. Jung wrote, "The mandala's basic motif is the premonition of a center of personality, a kind of central point within the psyche, to which everything is related, by which everything is arranged, and which is itself a source of energy. ... This center is not felt or thought of as the ego, but if one may so express it, as the self. Although the center is represented as the innermost point, it is surrounded by a periphery containing everything that belongs to the self -- the paired opposites that make up the total personality. This totality comprises consciousness first of all, then the personal unconscious, and finally an indefinitely large segment of the collective unconscious whose archetypes are common to all mankind." (From "Concerning Mandala Symbolism," Collected Works 11:23ff.)
The technique for creating a mandala. If we make a mandala, we gain some advantages: (1) the mandala can contain personal symbolism which might make the mandala more effective; (2) we can use the time during which we create the mandala as a meditation upon the creative process itself and upon the feelings which are being expressed.