Product Development - The Mandala

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Sure, just about everyone who’s been on a gap year in the last ten years probably has one inked on them. Or you’ll have seen it in one shape or another in one of those mindfulness colouring books. However you’re familiar, the Mandala has become an icon of an emblem – telling tales of spirituality and self-confessed ‘I’m-so-in-touch-with-myself-and-my-greater-being’ – but what does it mean?

Off the back of a commission we had a couple of months ago, Gary’s been drawing … and we’ve been doing some digging.  

Turns out, the Mandala can trace its roots down deep – from Hinduism, to Tibetan Buddhism, ancient alchemy to modern psychology. But at its very earliest appearance, a Mandala is a sacred Buddhist geometric figure that represents the universe, the cosmos and the nature of life within it. Whilst it translates literally from Sanskrit to mean ‘circle’, it’s also been interpreted to mean ‘container of essence’ – which speaks more of what it was born to be used for … a mediation guide.

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By mentally entering a Mandala and exploring the intricacy of its lines, from the outside in, you clear the mind of distraction whilst being guided through the cosmos to the very essence of reality at the centre. Only when you can recite the Mandala to the last detail can you truly claim to understand both the many layers of your own consciousness and the place it has within the wider whole.

Creating a Mandala is to practice in the most precious of Buddhist teachings – and so is traditionally only done by Monks. It’s a ritual – a meditative, painstaking process that can often take days, or even weeks to complete and many, many hands.

They’re constructed from the centre outward, starting with a single dot. This is the ‘seed’, the centre of consciousness and the universe. From there, lines are drawn through the centre to four corners, creating the synonymous geometric pattern of a Mandala. These lines are used to construct a ‘palace’ with four ‘gates’ – representing the four boundless thoughts:

Loving-kindness.
Compassion.
Sympathy.
Equanimity.

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Surrounding the ‘palace’ are a whole bunch of layers of concentric circles, all offering a stake in the journey. The outermost circle is usually decorated with scrollwork to symbolise a ring of fire and the burning of ignorance that’s necessary to pass through it. It’s the process of transformation humans must go through to enter the sacred territory within … true enlightenment.

The next circle in is a ring of thunderbolts, which depicts indestructability and illumination. Eight circles follow, representing the eight aspects of human consciousness that bind a person to the cycle of rebirth (the five senses, plus another three of ‘other sight’).

The innermost ring is usually decorated with lotus leaves, an image of purity and rebirth. Once you’ve passed through that, you’ve made it to the ‘palace’ and the teachings within.

So, you see, a Mandala is not just a symbol. It’s a deep and complex journey, travelled within the depths of yourself. And it’s the serenity they hint at, the sense of infinite purpose and place and their inherent promise of balance, unity and harmony, that have taken it from a sacred, religious spirit-map to tattoo-flash-card-favourite. Because even without truly knowing and understanding where it comes from and what it means, the latent power of it calls on a whole different level.

Well, at least to us. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes and calling bullshit.

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But the more we draw, the deeper we go. Of course, we’re totally not Buddhist Monks, and we’re not trying to recreate something so special and sacred on a chunk of metal. Instead, we’re looking to pay an honest, respectful homage to what it stands for.  

Loving-kindness.
Compassion.
Sympathy.
Equanimity.

And the peace there is to be found right at the centre – just so long as you take the time to look for it.

Carter Gore