The Mandala Pattern: A Universality of Structure
The birth of the mandala is the creation of the bindu, its center point, the focus of all its vibrant energy. It is the sudden appearance of a point in space, suspended from the rafters of infinity. It is a something where before was nothing, a celebration of existence in its purest state. But like all universal elements, the bindu longs to grow, to learn, to evolve. It seeks the company of others, not in a humanistic sense, but in the natural way that atoms draw together to form molecules, or that gas clouds in space coalesce into galaxies. Everything that exists displays the potential for the creation of this mandala pattern—it is a universal tendency, pure and simple. The bindu draws around itself the lines and forms that comfort it, images that deliver meaning, symbols of divinity that soothe its lonely spirit. It grows in cycles of shapes and colors, adding onto a structure that develops of its own accord along the ley lines of universal attraction. The compass points are usually the guides it follows, but they need not be. The bindu can expand in any symmetry, any direction. Still, the pattern is always one of surrounding the self, of outward growth, of adding whatever it feels will make it complete. Thus is born the mandala, in swirls and explosions of beauty and symbolism, cast in a structure inherently universal.
Return to the image of the galaxy, where no two are alike but all share a similarity of pattern. Just like mandalas, the forces that shape them are uniform throughout the universe, though local conditions may vary. Both are convocations of points, drawn unto each other by similar forces. They might spin into spirals, or they might not. They may display images of Tibetan cosmology, or perhaps not. The details are not as important as the essential act of following their nature and gathering together, of adding layer upon layer until the darkness of space is effectively banished. The brilliant stars of space gather in an incandescent festival to celebrate their union within a cosmic mandala pattern. They swing and swirl through space like angels in flight, ever-seeking, ever-changing, never resting. Their positions, though fluid, seem static to our frame of reference. Their points form lines; their lines, mythologies. Each instant in time is a snapshot of a moment, a pattern, that will never be repeated—the structures of the cosmos are ephemeral, eternal, and infinite. In this same way the mandala is an image of the totality of the universe. Since the cosmos is ever-evolving, no two mandalas can ever truly be the same. This endless fluidity imbues all universal structures with a permanent impermanence, showing us that motion, change, growth, and decay are the most basic characteristics of reality.
Think of the essential imperative in the heart of a fertilized egg cell—to grow, to develop, to expand, to specialize. It must divide and multiply until it is something wholly new, much more than what it was when it began. The cell and the bindu are pure potential—a feverish bundle of endless possibilities. The steps taken on the journey from a single cell to its full development are analogous to the process a bindu undergoes to become a mandala. They both obey a universal instinct to become more than what they are, to fulfill their unique, inherent pattern. This pattern seeks the attainment of stability, safety and self-sufficiency. It is the development of an elaborate intricacy, expressing an understanding that what the simple cannot achieve, the complex and specialized can. A plant seed is another treasure chest of potentiality. It is compelled, like the atom, the bindu and the fertilized cell, to struggle toward complexity, to grow out the pattern that is written into its most intimate code. The seed sends out the tiniest, most humble little seedling. The seedling seeks light and moisture, takes in what materials it needs from its environment, processes them to create more of itself. It will grow, strengthen, and eventually reproduce. Although usually associated with the “living” elements, the act of reproduction can be found at all levels of the material universe. We can think of the accretion process a star undergoes as it forms as being equivalent to the development of the seed or the fertilized egg cell. They begin simply, gather and organize parts of their environment into themselves, and eventually become complex and specialized entities. They use raw materials to maintain themselves, emit the resulting byproducts, and eventually cast from themselves the seeds of new selves. The person will procreate, the plant will bloom, the star will cast its layers out into the night—rich materials which will later gather elsewhere to reform as more complex stars, planetary systems, perhaps even life as we know it.
Our personality, too, develops according to this universal mandala pattern. As newborns we have no experience to draw from, lacking the library of learned materials that define our behaviors and beliefs. We are a blank slate, in a sense, at least as far as worldly experience goes. The self at this stage is like a simple point, because whatever else we may lack, we undeniably possess the singular quality of Being. Upon this simple point we will gradually build the layers that come to form our personality. We will store the memories that embody our past experience, and draw unto ourselves the symbols that appeal to our ego. Thus we are both the created and the creator of our most essential self. Like the bindu, the self seeks protection, affirmation, and structure. And so we grow the mandalas of our lives around us; some are sparse, some intricate beyond belief. Through the years some mandalas overdevelop into fragile structures, too thin and delicate for the social buffeting of daily life. Some mandalas are simple, not overwrought with filigree and ornament. These are most stable and best capable of weathering the complexities of social interaction. But the development of our mandala is only partly under our control—much of it is a product of external factors. For this reason we should take great care of the portion that we do have a hand in, as only in this way can we help ourselves move forward into a more stable and harmonious future.
In our consciousness, itself a recent development in the evolution of the universe, the pattern has changed in a curious way. Where before the mandala pattern was expressed through the inherent nature of the relationships among material elements, an infinity of new possibilities has blossomed in the human mind. Before this, the universe knew only the naturally occurring mandalas of atoms and molecules, stars and galaxies, flora and fauna. But our wondrous consciousness has the power to imagine, to see what may be, to envision and actualize what before existed only as potential. The human mind, with its unique ability to see beyond the material, has drawn gods in the heavens and mandalas in the earth. We have the ability to manipulate our material surroundings—paint images, carve statues, write poetry, build monuments—in ways that could not have occurred without our involvement. Yet everything that emerges from our imagination can only do so as a part of the greater universal pattern. We can create magnificent new images, but their underlying structure can never be other than the structure of the cosmos. That is not a limitation, by any means. Rather it is a connection, a beautiful link between our consciousness and the universe. In this way the mandala shows us how intimately related to the universe we really are.
It is important to understand that the seeming willfulness attributed to the non-sentient elements discussed here is not based on an anthropomorphization of the universe. I do not mean to say that a cell or a point or a star is thinking or acting consciously in any way that we may understand. Rather it is the other way around—just as their behavior is guided by universal structure, our internal longings for psychological stability, physical safety, and egoistic affirmation are all based on that same universal mandala pattern. Although we lack the perspective and frame of reference to grasp how or why, our thoughts and emotions originate from the basic forces of the universe, and are as subject to them as are falling rocks or fiery stars. There is an underlying physics to our consciousness, and from this stems the myriad mysteries that seem to follow us through our history. We cannot pretend to divorce ourselves from our origins—our consciousness is certainly a new and exciting development in the evolution of the universe, but it is born of the same forces that gave rise to the atoms and the galaxies, the birds and the trees.
I cannot imagine a more beautiful configuration of cause and effect, a more harmonious arrangement among the elements of the universe. The pattern continues in everything that we see—quarks congregate, protons socialize, atoms unify, molecules organize, proteins dance and sentience blooms. Where do we go from here? Perhaps the bindu can tell us. The answers to the mysteries of our existence are deeply encoded into the visual poetry at the heart of the mandala.
March 29, 2006
by Peter Patrick Barreda, material copyright 2009, all rights reserved