MANDALA is a sacred place, often of circular shape, which reveals the inner truth about us and the world in which we exist. Mandalas can thus show the external reality which we see as well as the invisible inwardness of our mind and body. If we follow the path that guides us through the mandala, we can experience the wholeness and unity with everything that is in our real human nature. It also enables us to restore our inner peace and harmony regardless of the disturbing effects coming from the external environment.
And this is the story told by our mandala exhibition that was prepared by Gabrijela Železnik and Vanda Omejc and is the seventh annual mandala exhibition taking place in Plečnik’s ambient of the National and University Library, which is a sort of a mandala in itself. The artistic creations of both artists intertwine with a deep poetic experience offered by the numerous verses, such as:
In silence I hear a voice.
The voice of Creation.
I listen to it.
Step by step
I follow it.
Such meditative atmosphere is perfect for creating new mandalas. Designing and painting them – or just merely watching them – increases our ability to experience the rough physical surroundings differently, in a more holy, spiritual and symbolic way.
It is quite spectacular how important this ability to “imagine visually” was and still is in India and Tibet. Masters of meditation are renowned for their ability to see a number of different mandalas when meditating; they appear in front of their eyes in all kinds of shapes and colours. The thousands-year-old Tibetan Buddhist tradition has certain rules conditioning mandala design based on religious, mathematical, astrological and other criteria. Our mandalas that we see here were created more or less spontaneously, without limiting the authors. However, these mandalas are in their essence still what they should be: spiritual circles of knowledge, harmony and happiness.
Or as the Buddhists like to say: “Regard all beings as Buddhas, hear all voices as mantras, see all reality as a mandala". If this aim is achieved, mandalas will also have healing properties. Just being in our presence (e.g. in a form of a picture, an amulet etc.) is enough for the mandala to exert this power, and it affects us whether we are aware of it or not. We can further increase mandala’s therapeutic effects by meditating on it or in its presence, on its forms, symbols, colours, numbers, or deities. By doing so, we also get more in touch with our own essence. Since every person is a unique being – in terms of our own personalities – each one of us has our own mandala which is closest to us and affects us most, even though some mandalas may look very alike. And when a specific mandala brings us to a certain point on our path, we can replace it and choose a different one. The Tibetans do this at the end of a special religious ceremony by hand-sweeping the colourful mandala off the table after days and weeks of creating it. After destroying the mandala, they throw its dust into a brook or a river. By doing so, they wish to communicate a message that mandala is merely a tool and not something a person should get attached to. In other words, mandala is only a finger pointing towards the Moon and not the Moon itself. This can be clearly seen also when the previously colourful Tibetan mandala becomes deathly grey. If we only marvel at mandalas without creating any in our inner selves, it is only a beautiful illusion; there is a saying that thousand temples are of little use if we do not have a temple also in our hearts.
Mandalas are closely connected with the circular symbols of creation, which are known in nearly every culture. In the Christian West, mandala is referred to as a “mandorla” (almond) or a “golden egg” and “golden apple” (such as in our fairy tales), and it also represents the circular and elliptical path of the universe, the zodiac, the original forces that created the world, a renewable life etc. But there are not many among us who could deny seeing something in a mandala of this or other kind, at least some sort of a flower. In his movie Seven Samurai (1954), the Japanese director Akira Kurosava included a scene with a samurai sitting under a blossoming cherry tree before the final battle with the enemy when life is at stake, smiling at the blossom he holds in his hand. This scene is reminiscent of the Buddha’s sermon during which the master did not say a word but only showed a flower to his students, holding it in his hands. This message was supposed to be interpreted correctly only by Kaśyapa, who explained it by saying that some truths cannot be articulated in words. The fact that this is not only a legend but a creative mental concept is demonstrated by the Indian Buddhist cosmology which envisions our world as a lotus flower with numerous leaves lying in the middle of the sea and being symmetrically arranged around the central mountain of Meru. In Europe, this flower became the royal red rose and the rustic white daisy or the yellow St. John’s wort, but in Japan, this has always been the cherry blossom.
In Slovenia, the magic of this “cherry blossom” was not experienced by many but was heartily felt by our great poet Kajuh, which further proves the fact that this symbolism is still very much alive to this day, especially in moments of existential crisis and distress.
As we briefly explained, we can find mandalas all around us but only if we want to: they are present in a form of a spider web or the coiled snail’s shell, they can be observed in the galaxies on our starry sky, in the structure of the atom, in the rings of a tree trunk. Our solar system is in itself a sort of a mandala (looking at it from the circular and heliocentric perspective), thus it makes perfect sense that our perception of time and space is so deeply associated with all of the cosmic symbols. And this is the very essence of the wisdom conveyed by the ancient Indian poetry and the great French mathematician Bernoulli: how one can see a reflection of our vast world in the tiniest drop of morning dew. The path of the mandala is thus a way of understanding and rediscovering one’s own true self.
Mandala, Mavrične steze
The word mandala in Sanskrit means “round”, whereas mandalam means “circle” or “circuit”. Rig Veda (2.33 and 4.28) calls the sun disc mandala or chakra. In later Indian literature the Sun and (full) Moon are also called surya-mandala and chandra-mandala and together with them everything that has a circular form (e.g. a series of literary works). Chögyam Trumpa in his book Orderly Chaos defines mandala as a “group” or “company”, as an “organization”, i.e. as something connected. In other words, mandala is an accumulation of many details that come together in a harmonic whole. As early as in Vedic times the pattern of mandala surfaced in the sacrifice altar built of a symbolic number of bricks and divided into a net of smaller segments. The Vedic altar was believed to be a dwelling place for various deities. These deities were usually perceived as feelings, symbols and qualities existing in our surroundings as well as in ourselves. Therefore they are not to be worshipped as some gods from the skies but as means of experience and learning.
Since mandala is a general human pattern to be discovered in most diverse cultures of our planet, this eternal circle was known also in Slovenia. Slovene author Edvard Kocbek sensitively describes it as “ring” in one of his poems. These examples make us aware that mandalas are not just something imported from the exotic East – they have always been around us and a part of us. Therefore they are a vital part of the Slovene tradition, only their names and forms are different, and they are not so elaborate as e.g. Indian mandalas from late esoteric Buddhism. Here we should mention the magic signs on Slovene rural pottery, Easter eggs, lacework, cradles, signs above the doors of houses, cowsheds and stables etc. Naturally every circular ornament is not yet a mandala; it has to have a centre spreading its sacred power all the way to the edge of the circle. It is also significant whether there are signs or symbols in the circle. A sign is something known and defined, whereas a symbol is relatively unknown and undefined. For example, a lotus in its physical, botanical form is something completely else than its metaphysical dimension that can be found in mandalas. Another example is the use of colours: blue is used as a sign if it stands for the blueness of the sky or of the eyes. Yet when the clothes of a divine being are painted in blue, the colour becomes a symbol of a concept that is not just a colour of the sky or the sea any more but rather of something abstract: the infinite (cf. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, The Transformation of Nature in Art).
Mandalas are not just flat images, they can also be three-dimensional, composed either of sculptures or human or divine beings. Such configurations were for example councils of our ancestors where community leaders were seated around the village lime tree. Another example is gathering of saints under the paradise tree in Slovene folk songs. A mandala of some sort is also the hollow mountain in which the legendary King Matjaž (Matthias) is sleeping, before he awakes and saves Slovenes. Only those who are worthy can find the way into the mountain, similar to Asian mandalas where only initiated individuals can enter. Finally, mandalas can also be dynamic and not just static, like the Tibetan Buddhist ceremony of Kalachakra where the participants construct a live mandala. In Slovene folklore, the parallel is the ceremonial circling around a lime tree or a bonfire. The Tibetan circling around the sacred mountain Kailash can symbolically be compared with Slovene rain processions or other circular ceremonies, which had to be conducted clockwise. It is not far from here to realization that everything surrounding a human being is like a mandala-like temple, and more: the same goes for the human body as abode of the spirit/soul.
While in classical mandala depictions there were strict rules to be observed: certain techniques, patterns, proportions, colour scales and iconographic motives, the mandala creations of today are more liberal. It is worth noting that quite a few Slovene female and male authors dedicate their time to mandala making, yet each one of them has his or her own style. Naturally different perspectives of the same reality only reflect various paths to the same mountain top. The path that has been made by both authors of this book is one of the significant paths upwards.
Mandala, Continuing the Path »Liberation«
Later the mandalas were becoming more and more abstract – their structure was influenced by cosmological speculations and discoveries in philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and alchemy. One could therefore say that all the knowledge of that time was combined in them, that they comprised the whole world-view, answering the basic questions about our existence. For deciphering the meaning of such mandalas one needs a vast knowledge that can only be obtained by studying the ancient Indian and Tibetan manuscripts.
Yet mandalas have another, symbolical dimension which every human can grasp without any special preparation. The Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung maintained that they reflect the basic human need for orientation and harmony. Since they contain and combine into a balanced whole rhythms, colours, geometrical forms and symbols – bringing together components usually viewed as opposing, e.g. the white, the red and the blue colour; the circle, the square and the triangle), the mandalas are telling in their own way about the connection of everything existing in this world. They are crystalline structures of the Creation that one intuitively recognises as deeply true, although on the surface they may look like nothing in our surroundings. For this reason there is no sharp border between the mandalas of the ancient cultures and similarly inspired works of the modern visionaries and artists.
The Mandala Book and The Colouring Book by Vanda Omejc and Gabrijela Železnik open for us an important path of discovering the cosmos and our place in it, but only when one really experiences the mandalas – one has to really take them in when colouring – whereby one enters from the egocentric body into the cosmic one. One should imagine the colours livelier than those on the paper, seeing them as radiant as those of the stained-glass windows when the sun shines through them into the twilight of a church. Apparently not only our self-awareness but also our mental health is related to that.
Mandala, A Tool for Raising Consciousness and Enhancing Personal Growth
“Several paths are open.
Each one is a test on its own ...”
This applies to all of us. But I am especially well aware of this, and reminded of it every time I look back at the path I have already walked. I look at my life path from my own angle. Many people who know me would probably describe my life as tragic at certain times. But I see it differently, somehow from within. I am content with everything. Everything bad that has happened in my life has certainly made me a better person. I look at everything from a positive angle, and I see beauty also in the little things. I love creating little things. I enjoy making them, but most of all I enjoy giving them away as gifts, thus sharing them with others. Years ago, a friend of mine brought a gift to my daughter. It was a mandala colouring book. I think this was the first colouring book published by Mrs Omejc and Mrs Železnik. After this, I and my daughter Mojca attended a mandala exhibition. Mojca now already owns 2 books on mandalas. She takes these books with her wherever she goes. I forgot to mention that she is my only child and that she was born with Down Syndrome. I have devoted my entire life to her. And when I look back after all these years, I know that I really did a lot for her life. Mojca loves colouring mandalas, which has been her hobby ever since she first saw one. She also likes giving away her coloured mandalas – nicely framed – as a gift to our friends or her peers. We haven't missed a single annual mandala exhibition. We always enjoy the new mandalas and marvel at them. I want to congratulate Mrs Omejc and Mrs Železnik for their amazing work and successful mission that has taken on unimagined proportions. See you again next year!