Thursday, April 08, 2010

My Westernized Mandala

For class the other day, we designed and then made sand mandalas. We are studying Tibetan Buddhism and did research papers on the tantric practice of the sand mandala and it's meaning. Based on this study we were to do our own mandala for a variety of reasons: 1. to learn the lesson of impermanence. 2. to see how hard it actually is. 3. to see how art has layers upon layers of meaning.

here is my mandala sketch and explanation followed by the final version:

The Meaning

Unlike the Tibetan concept of Mandala as palace and home of deity, I am choosing to represent a God that can’t be boxed. In fact, the symbols of the various religions are trying to act as walls for the divine yet the divine is in and through everything. This is to represent my panentheistic view of God.

In the center, I have chosen the traditional Christian symbol of Alpha and Omega to represent the divine. However, I modified it a little and placed two question marks and centered it in a labyrinth to show the ineffability of the divine. The boxes that hold the various symbols of the world religions demonstrate how each is a human-constructed view of the divine and the fire labyrinth that encircles the boxes show how each has a little bit of the fiery divine wisdom within each. The symbols read clockwise spell out “COEXIST” and end with a human skull to symbolize secular humanism, atheism, and those without a particular tradition yet still hold philosophical wisdom. These are placed on the 8 cardinal directions.

The labyrinth shows how humanity wonders and wanders around searching for the divine and yet wanders and wonders completely surrounded by it. I take this meaning from the wisdom literature that “all of this has happened before and shall happen again” which is a pseudo-Buddhist view of time. The pathway also shows how we are largely in the same state that we started in and will end up close to where we began on our journey. 

The symbol of the male and female figures is to show divine blessing on all of humanity and how we are charged with dominion over the world. It is good to note that dominion in my mind, from Genesis, suggests a stewardship and care for the planet, not the excess and exploitation that can be associated with this idea. It is also good to note that this view can be seen as hetero-centric but I do not intend it as such. This does not show how the man and woman are partnered with one another but shows both genders and represent how all of us got here, namely through that union. It is not intended to rule out homosexual partnerships.

The Experience
man, you have no idea how much concentration it takes to get sand to go where you want it to! Your breathing, hand control, and body position all must be accounted for. we used straws, brushes, and toothpicks to apply the sand and one little move or absent minded breath would send your whole work scattering. the concentration though was extremely focusing, i have a very technical and small-scale mandala and i'm normally more of a "chaos" artist... meaning i will slop things on there and intuitively follow where my mistakes lead me. this however, required a plan with mathematical precision planning and extreme skill to pull off. i rarely have these qualities, so it was quite a change from the normal way of doing things. I found the initial start-up frustrating, but once i got the hang of how the sand fell and what techniques to use, it became easier and i found i grew more quite, focused, and prayerful.  

The Result
When planning the mandala, i was so focused on the measurements and alignment that I forgot about scale. so i came with a smaller mandala than everyone else and thus a more technical one. the application of the sand blurred on the COEXIST spelling and only about two came out legible. i am pretty proud of the labyrinth and the color scheme.  This is from my buddy's camera on his cell phone... but you can see it's a little blurry. I love the 3D aspect of it, how you could texture and raise things in the sand or flatten or do a brush pattern. i hope to do another mandala in the future that will be bigger and will account for such things.

So if you had to do a mandala, what symbols would you have on it? What would it represent? If you have the time, I'd love to see a design or something... to my fellow classmates, I will put up your mandala on this site if you're willing to email it to me. RAWK!


societyvs said...

I just checked Wikipedia on Mandala's for their meaning - and wow - some of the one's on there boggle the imagination.

A couple years back a group of Buddhist monks came to the University I work at and did a Manadala. There were like 5 of them working on it - and it was also quite intricate.

After reading about the process from you - I am quite amazed at how much work is involved and the meditative aspects of this practice (seems cool).

What would I put in mine? I guess I would put God in the middle (but how can you draw a God you cannot see?). I think around it I would put the 4 colors of the First Nations 4 directions (Blue/black, white, yellow, red). For me this symbolizes completeness - all the races, all the corners of the earth, all the seasons, all the stages of growth, etc.

Yael said...

So I think what mine would be is this: A center circle that fills up around 2/3 the area containing a variety of Jewish symbols including a Sefer Torah, a stack of books, a yahrzeit candle, the moon, a mezuzah, Shabbat candles, a shofar. I would avoid the usual Star of David and menorah since I they aren't personal to me and I prefer to limit myself to seven symbols. Filling the majority of my mandala with these symbols shows that Judaism is what defines my life. I will not make any connections between these symbols, however, since how they are connected changes fairly often.

I would place them all at an equal distance from the very center where I would place a few little stick people representing community.

Just outside this circle of symbols I would place a few small boundary markers to symbolize that all is not the same space. These boundary markers are just that, however, markers, reminders, not a wall, not a barbed wire fence, not a mine field, not a moat. Small markers show that others may come visit me any time, they just are not free to make rules for my space, uproot whatever I have they don't think I need, nor help themselves to what I have that they might like for themselves!

In between the boundary markers I would put 2 pine trees side-by-side for my mother, may her memory be only for a blessing, and six chairs for a past that is no more.

Outside these markers I leave the space blank to symbolize that I am not to insert my own religious expectations onto others; they are instead free to fill this space as they choose so long as they respect those markers!

I will not place any line around the outside of this space but will let the sand taper off to nothingness. This nothingness, which is also present in all the tiny spaces between the grains of sand throughout, will complete my Mandala.

Luke said...

SVS and Yael,

thanks for taking the time to respond. sounds like two great mandalas that could be made. Yael, i like your possessiveness of your tradition and ardent defense of it, that's something i can stand to learn from you about my own tradition!


Yael said...

Actually I have always seen you as someone committed to his tradition as well, for better or for worse, and for which you do take a few jabs now and then, even from me!

Sabio Lantz said...

Just a challenge to "CoExist":

(I will write on Mohammed's evolution on this idea later)

It is a politically correct rainbow word. Sure, it is nice. Sure, it would be far better than killing each other.

But I value "Co-challenging without Coercion" We can even hope the others disappear as long as their is no coercion. I desire many thoughts and many religions to disappear -- I don't feel a need to be too politically correct about that.

Luke said...

"It is a politically correct rainbow word. "

i don't think it is. i can be taken that way, but that's not how i view it. i intend to live out this idea and how to do that is living in peace, but peace does not mean an absence of conflict. it's living in the conflict peacefully. i also don't believe in managing conflict or resolutions of conflict but i do believe in peaceful conflict. more on that later.

Sabio Lantz said...

We agree on the "peaceful" (meaning no violence or coercion). I just wanted to add that I will occasionally work hard to work someone's ideas OUT of EXISTENCE because I think some ideas and ways of holding them are bad. So I have no desire to mindlessly coexist with everything around me. But I am sure you agree. We just may disagree on what is harmful, though I think we agree on far more than we disagree.

Luke said...

agreed! :-D