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02 January 2007 @ 04:36 pm
Mandala madness  
When I was in France in 2004, I picked up a book of mandalas to color. I really used to enjoy coloring as a kid, and as I was browsing one day in a bookstore in Toulouse, Plaisir & Magie du Mandala by Jean-Michel Plasait caught my eye. There was something about the symmetry and visual complexity of the mandalas that appealed to me. When I returned to the states, I worked on a few of them but grew bored with the project and filed the book away on a shelf.

Several weeks ago, beginning of December or so, I suddenly felt a resurgence of interest in mandalas. I’m not sure what brought it on. My meditation practice was feeling a bit tired and dry; perhaps the cosmic symbolism of the mandala was calling out to me as a source of renewal. I may also have been influenced by a large poster in my study which features a mandala-like schematic arrangement of Buddhist tenets. I placed “The Wheel of Buddhist Terms” as it’s called on the wall several months ago directly facing my meditation cushion. I tend to meditate with my eyes closed or gazing softly toward the floor, so I don’t meditate visually on the poster itself, though I do refer to it from time to time in a gradual effort to mentally organize the Buddha’s lists: the Five Aggregates, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Five Hindrances, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, and so on.

The symbolism of round, symmetrical designs (mandala means disk in Sanskrit) is ancient and rich, of course, and occurs in just about every sphere of human knowledge and experience imaginable: flowers and snowflakes, the sun and moon, the cycles of the seasons and on and on in nature, labyrinths, kaleidoscopes, Native American medicine wheels sand paintings, the twelve hexagrams of the I-Ching, stained-glass windows and Tibetan mandalas used in some forms of traditional meditation.

In his book Meditating With Mandalas, David Fontana suggests that one result of the practice can be that we become kinder people. “Kindness is not an artificial quality grafted upon life, but something that arises of itself once we stop thinking of life as fragmented and individualistic, with each person concerned only for himself and with no thought for others. The mandala works by virtue of the relationship between each of its parts, which represents not just themselves but an integral aspect of the whole” (p. 36).” He goes on to say that it doesn’t work too well to bear these thoughts in mind consciously when meditating upon a mandala. The mandala’s ability to represent and symbolize kindness occurs at an entirely unconscious level. “Often we become aware of its effect upon us only after the meditation is over, or when we have been working with it for some weeks or months. Harmony, tranquility, and kindness are natural states of the mind, and by allowing the mind to open to the mandala we rediscover these states, and they begin to influence and inform all our actions in both the inner and outer worlds” (p. 37).

More tomorrow.
 
 
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