The word “mandala” literally means “circle” in Sanskrit, the ancient religious and philosophical language of India. It has mostly come to refer to circular designs which are often painted, though sometimes laid out on the ground with coloured sands, sometimes embodied in architecture and sculpture. They can have figurative elements or be totally abstract.
Mandalas however are more than pleasing designs: they have a meditative significance which is often, but not always, contained within a formally religious context. They have also found a home in recent times in the psychotherapeutic practices of followers of Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) who theorised extensively on the psychological meaning of mandalas.
The religious tradition which has made the most use of mandalas is Tibetan Buddhism but they are by no means confined to it. In Tibetan Buddhism, the mandalas are used as an aid to meditation, as a focus for consciousness. They also symbolically express aspects of doctrine and the values espoused by the religion with the aim of helping the practitioner of the meditation to internalise them.
It is also thought that meditation on the mandala awakens primordial inner energies
through a kind of resonance and which effect inner transformation. Jung also took
this view. For him, the mandala expressed and symbolised an ‘archetype’, in this
case the archetype of 'the Self'. An archetype is an aspect of the deepest part of
the unconscious mind, what Jung called the collective unconscious. Archetypes are
known to us through dream imagery, spontaneous art productions (often produced within
therapy), spontaneous meditative visions, and hallucinations resulting from mental
crisis, psychosis or the ingestion of shamanic power-
The Self, [capital 'S'], is thought to be far bigger than our mundane selves, our personalities or our egos. Though lodged at the deepest centre of the personality, it also encompasses the whole of it. On some accounts it encompasses the whole of existence or at very least, represents our intimate connection with it. Jung often spoke of the way in which the Self is a 'conjunction of opposites' (conjunctio oppositorum) and in this he echoes the mediaeval alchemists who he saw as precursors of his own psychological system. This is not a new idea: it is found in the Taoist insistence on the mutual dependence of yin and yang, in the samkhya notion of the ultimate embrace of prakriti and purusha, consciousness and matter, in Heraclitus' poetic equation of “nature” with both war and peace, and in numerous other cultural manifestations.
On the Jungian view, then, mandalas symbolise a psychological wholeness which can incorporate opposites, and our psyches compensate for its lack in times of crises by producing them from the darkness of the unconscious. The insight thus gained is that we do after all have the resources to cope with life's psychological difficulties and that at some level we are essentially whole. The therapeutic journey which they are a part of is called 'individuation'.
The Tibetan Buddhist view also regards the mandala as a symbol of wholeness but rather than being spontaneously produced, they are used as aids in a project of actually making ourselves conform with the definite, desired and culturally sanctioned goal of wholeness, the ultimate expression of which is enlightenment.
About Anna’s Mandalas
Anna's mandalas don't propagate any particular metaphysical or religious view. They
are art works rather than assertions of some doctrine. They are however deeply rooted
in meditation and have a strong meditative resonance. Their mode of production is
particularly interesting, reconciling the opposites of deliberation and accident
as elements in the creative process. They begin life as abstract paintings in acrylics
on heavy watercolour paper. They are then scanned so that the images can be transformed
using a computer. They are subjected to an algorithmic process in which the artist
chooses a few numerical parameters and then instructs the computer to apply them
to the image. Though the outcome is strictly mathematically determined, from the
artist's point of view, the result is accidental. With practice, the artist learns
how to invite the happy accident with more and more assurance, just as artists as
varied as the surrealists and wielders of the Zen ink-
Dr Pete Yates (October 2011)