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  • Siddharth Mahajan

Mandala and Psychology

Mandalas are circular, geometrical patterns that are symmetrical in nature. The word “mandala” originated from the Sanskrit language; it means “circle,” literally. It is a symbolic representation of the universe with an outer and inner representation of the world. In religious contexts, especially in Buddhism, mandalas are seen as a circle which is magical and has no origin and no end just like the universe. Mandalas, from time immemorial, have been used as an object to focus one’s attention. For instance, it is used to focus one’s attention while meditating. The use of mandala facilitates the process of focusing on one thing - because of its symmetrical shape one’s attention is directed to the centre of the mandala. The use of mandalas is found frequently in the Eastern philosophies, like Buddhist and Hindu philosophy. It has also been adapted by Western philosophies. Carl Jung’s work on Mandala is a major source of knowledge and is representative of the influence of mandalas in the Western culture. Psychologist Carl Jung reasoned mandalas to be a representation of one’s collective unconscious which is a representation of a form of the unconscious is different from Freud’s concept of the subconscious and unconscious. He described the mandala as “self-archetype” and its use has been documented in Jungian Play Therapy.

“I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, a mandala, which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time... Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is.... the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well, is harmonious.” ~ C.G. Jung.

Research studies conducted in the area of psychology have used mandalas as a component to see if the use of mandalas can help reduce stress. Mandalas are also used in art therapy. The therapist uses a mandala created by the client as a representation of his or her current feelings and emotions, this technique is found to be self-calming and self-centring by some. In mandala art therapy, some art therapists also encourage their clients to keep a “mandala journal.” Major studies have used “mandala colouring” in their studies. Mandala colouring is an activity where one colours a pre-drawn mandala, mandalas have also been used in a variety of techniques used in art therapy. Art therapy techniques, including mandalas, have been used in combination with other mainstream therapies in various settings and formats. Recent studies have shown that mandala colouring was useful in reducing anxiety. For example, it can be used as a stress reduction technique,in enhancing mood, and for trauma patients. Most of these studies were conducted on either university students or civilians. In one such study, mandalas were found to be effective as an adjunctive form of therapy for clients who were suffering from PTSD. Jung used mandalas not only in Jungian Play Therapy, but also in treating clients with emotional disorders. He used mandalas in psychotherapy by asking clients to draw individual mandalas. This process of drawing mandalas helped him identify the emotional disturbances the clients were suffering and helped them in working towards achieving wholeness in one’s personality. Jung realized the large amount of similarity in the drawings that the patients created. According to him, “In view of the fact that all the mandalas shown here were new and uninfluenced products, we are driven to the conclusion that there must be a trans conscious disposition in every individual which is able to produce the very same or similar symbols at all times and in all places. Since this disposition is usually not a conscious possession of the individual, I have called it the collective unconscious.”

Mandalas hold a special place in Buddhism. One of the richest visual objects in Tibetan Buddhism rituals is the mandala. The mandala here is representative of an imaginary palace that one contemplates during meditation. The Tibetan mandala has deities, with the principal deity in the middle of the pattern. The deities embody the philosophical views and serve as a role model. Each object or deity holds significance, where it represents an aspect of wisdom or it reminds the meditator of a guiding principle. The purpose of these mandalas is to help transform ordinary minds into enlightened minds and souls full of wisdom, and provide assistance in healing. The Buddhist scriptures mention that the mandalas constructed from sand are transmitters of positive energy to the people and their environment. They are tools that facilitate the process of healing, as mentioned before. The mandala sand painting was introduced by the Buddha himself and there are many different variants of it which teach different lessons. A very good article describing the use of mandalas in Tibetan Buddhism and the use of mandalas by Carl Jung is Davis, J., (2014). Here, in this article, the author is talking about the similarities of the use of mandalas in the eastern and western philosophies and how it is employed as an agent for inner transformation. The author has done a comparative analysis on the use of mandalas and has emphasized that in spite of the differences in the traditional methods of using mandalas there exist notable similarities in relation to mandalas and its symbolic representation. In both the philosophies mandalas are a representation of wholeness and a dynamic vehicle of healing and transformation.The thesis Mandala of the Mind; an explanation of the requirements of the Buddhist Philosophy on the Interdependent Nature of Existence. By Graham Francis King, can also be referred to understand and gain an in depth understanding of mandalas in Buddhist philosophy. In this article, the author is describing his personal experience on working with mandalas and how it has facilitated his understanding of the fundamental connection that he shares with all humans and the natural world. He explains in detail how his stay in Tasmania and creating his own sand mandalas, which are a part of Buddhist philosophy, helped him understand his own relationship with existence and a growing awareness about himself.

Mandalas are currently used for various things like relaxation or to focus attention. There are many mandala colouring books that are available which can be used by anyone, be it children or adults. These books are often used as mentioned before as an aid to relax, reduce tension, enhance mood. Some mandala colouring books are: The Mini Mandala Colouring Book by Susanne F. Fincher, The Mandala Guidebook: How to Draw, Paint and Colour Expressive Mandala Art by Kathryn Costa. Mandala colouring is not limited to books. There are some free applications that can be found online which are for mandala colouring and are easily available. The life that one is living now is making one vulnerable to mental health illnesses because of the amount of stress that one faces daily. More than 300 million people have either experienced depression, anxiety at least once in their life. It becomes important at times like this that one takes care of his mental health and puts mental well-being first. The significance of mandalas can be understood from the documentation of its use and its efficiency. It can be used as a self-care technique or self-care routine. What better way is there than to take a break, unwind and let your inner child come out and colour and reduce the stress that we have been carrying every day and give your mental health the nurturance it needs!

Divya Mirani


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