What Is A Mandala? Historical Meanings & Symbolism

Photo: jakkaje879/Shutterstock.com
What Is A Mandala? Historical Meanings & Symbolism
Self

Many of us have seen adult coloring books featuring beautiful mandalas to make our own, but what's unique about these shapes? Why does their structure provide so much peace?

The mandala holds historical meaning and symbolism.

A mandala is much more than just a page in a coloring book, they are palaces with a great deal of historical meaning and symbolism that goes into the mandala.

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The meaning of the word mandala is a circle, explaining why they are usually formed in a circular shape.

Circles were used because of their powerful significance within Hinduism and Buddhism, and their history goes back to the first century.

History of the mandala in Buddhism

Buddhists first to created the mandala and used it as a meditation tool to free themselves from the never-ending cycle of death and rebirth.

The mandala aids in finding enlightenment and healing during meditation, helping people to find peace once the meditation is complete.

In Buddhism, the mandalas contain squares and circles within the main circle itself.

Each square and circle within the mandala holds its own meaning. The circles are a representation of the cosmos and the squares are symbolic of earthly levels. Each square and circle is considered a ‘level’ to pass through to get into the center of the mandala. Once you have reached the center of the mandala you have gone from an ordinary mind to an enlightened mind.

Finding your way to the center of the mandala is a symbol of finding your path in the universe.

Mandala symbolism

The mandalas can be incredibly detailed and intricate or plain and simple, but they all represent a spiritual journey. They can be created through yarn, paintings, drawings, or even drawn out in the sand.

There are three types of mandalas:

Sand

Healing

Teaching

Sand mandalas are a meditation tool for focus.

Sand mandalas are considered to be the most spiritual option. It is a tradition that sacred ceremonies be held during the creation of the sand mandala. The ceremonies and building of the sand mandalas typically last for three days.

Rituals such as dances and meditation teachings are a big part of the ceremonies held for the mandala. The first sand is placed in the center of the mandala and represents Buddha.

The artist then works their way from the inside out, each layer representing a different Buddha teaching. At the end of the ceremonies, once the mandala is finished, the sand is poured into water.

Healing mandalas boost creativity.

You can draw your own healing mandala.

Healing mandalas are found in all religions that use them. As a tool that is meant to release positive energy into the world of all who participated in the ceremonies.

The mandala now lives within them forever as an experience that will carry on through their lives. In Hinduism, healing mandalas came about in the fourth century and have even become a prominent design in most Hindu temples.

Many of the same rituals and meanings surrounding mandalas in Buddhism are also seen in Hinduism.

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The teaching mandala symbolizes the individual's learning experiences.

The mandala still represents universal enlightenment and a spiritual journey. However, in Hinduism, the ‘levels’ are symbols of universal levels rather than Buddhist teachings. The center of the mandala still represents freedom and spiritual enlightenment. Both religions place a high value on the meaning behind the mandalas and create them in numerous shapes, all centering around a circular pattern.

Mandala symbolism and historical meaning in art

The most common mandala designs include the elephant, flower, circle, and geometric shapes.

Each design is a symbol of different spiritual aspects. The elephant mandala is my personal favorite and represents power and strength. It can also symbolize a strong soul and is used most frequently in Buddhism.

The flower mandala stands for all life in the universe. The flower also aids in focus during meditation practices. The circle mandalas are the most common design among religions and spiritual practices.

The circle design is symbolic of finding ourselves and becoming whole. Geometric mandalas are used to symbolize nature and the enlightenment of the human body. This means that we are a part of nature and nature is a part of us internally.

In our society, we see a lot of these designs every day on tapestries, tattoos, and even items as insignificant as notebooks for journaling. While it’s fine to appreciate the beauty and detail of mandalas, it’s also important that we educate ourselves on their meaning before hanging them up in our home.

For many religions, not just Buddhism and Hinduism, mandalas are considered sacred and are expected to be treated accordingly.

We should use our interest in the designs as an opportunity to learn more about other cultures and religions. You may even want to practice some mindful meditation rituals in alignment with your mandala. A creative way to incorporate the true meaning of the mandala in your life could be to find one in a coloring book and fill it in with your favorite colors.

While you’re filling in the colors, start from the outside and work your way in, focusing on each pattern as a relaxation technique. This is a great way to relax and reflect on your life while getting your creative juices flowing.

Mandalas are a unique symbol of spiritual enlightenment and have become more and more common in our culture. The next time you see someone with a mandala tattoo or tapestry, take the opportunity to teach them about its spiritual meaning. Then you can spread enlightenment by teaching others about the historical meaning and symbolism of the mandala.

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Lindsey Matthews is a writer who covers love and relationships, news, and pop-culture topics.