The Quest for Harmony: Life and the Mandala
It is a wondrous, harmonious experience to gaze upon a mandala, feeling the movement of its undulating lines, the energy of its sweeping curves, the stability of its central point, the bindu. Yet when you are engaged in admiring the mandala’s beauty and harmony, you would never say that these qualities are concentrated exclusively in the bindu. You feel it in the entirety of the image, in this tiny detail, that little shape, finding the unified arrangement of elements to be pleasing and harmonious. Our awareness moves through the mandala, visually, mentally and spiritually, experiencing its harmony as a complete and cohesive unity. We intuitively feel the intimate relations among its various parts—parts whose apparent individuality dissolves away as their underlying oneness becomes evident. This is a vision of deep and intense subconscious impact whose relevance and importance are mirrored in our own personal experience. Yet we forget how accurately the mandala can describe our lives, the day-to-day living of it. We must remember that ingrained in the mandala are the patterns and structures of ultimate reality, and that these are valuable lessons toward the betterment of our lives. To behave in greater accordance with the mandala is to live in greater harmony with the universe.
Harmony is a state of being wherein there exists no conflict among the elements involved. However, harmony does not necesarily imply a peaceful state—there may be chaos, hectic energy and disturbances aplenty, but all this activity will be found to occur within a self-sustaining, homeostatic system. The characteristic required in order to describe a system as harmonious is only that the elements and activities that comprise it are acting in conjunction with each other, behaving in such a way that the current state is stable and perpetuated. This recalls the image of the mandala, its impressive variety of elements and the complex inter-relations between them, all of which together exemplify a harmonious condition.
An innate characteristic of Humanity is continuous movement—physical, intellectal, and spiritual—and one way in which this compulsion for movement is manifested is in the desire for things. We may desire the attainment of certain social status, we may desire the acquisition of certain material objects, we may even seek knowledge and wisdom as an egoistic quest to improve our standing within our view of the world. These goals, all of which are desires of one kind or another, were strongly warned against by the Buddha. He taught that desire was one of the principle causes of human suffering, and this idea is evident in our modern culture. To seek harmony as an end-state, wherein we expect that all our problems will disappear, is as much a material quest as is dreaming of riches and power. Searching for harmony in this way is as futile and fruitless as any ego-inspired quest may ultimately be. Harmony is not a thing, it is a process. It is fine to want things in our lives, or to acheive certain goals. Social as well as universal principles drive us toward this behavior. But to take these actions with the expectation that upon the achievement of our goals we will find true and utter happiness is to set ourselves up for an endless series of failures. It is to create and to perpetuate a cycle of struggle followed by disappointment, repeating itself without end. When desire drives our actions and our intentions, then we live in a perpetual state of wanting. No matter what it is we desire, we can never find ourselves satisfied. Happiness will forever elude us as long as the driving force behind our lives is the wanting of it. We struggle toward our goals, and as soon as we reach them we find something else to want, and so on. This cycle feeds itself with a continuing series of disappointments—it never ends because it can never be truly satisfied. In response to the difficulty and distress this creates, we desire relief from this suffering in the form of harmony. We think of harmony as peace, as quiet, as blissful happiness, and in the morass of daily problems we long for a magical transition to a mythical, imaginary state of unconflicted being. But we mustn’t think of harmony, or a harmonious state, as a set and pre-defined goal toward which we must struggle. It is not a blissful state of being wherein we have accomplished all goals and have made it past all the impediments in our life. Harmony is not an end-state.
When we focus too strongly on the goals we desire, then we cannot experience the pleasures that may be found on the journey toward them. If we could learn to see our lives in a more linear fashion, where everything we do is part of the grand adventure, we would realize that our efforts are as enjoyable as the fruits of our labor. Harmony may be ours when we realize that the act of being is exactly what it is, what it should be, and what we are supposed to be doing. There is no other. Dis-Harmony is the illusion that the destination is more important than the journey. It is the victory of ego over nature, and the drawing of a hood over the eyes of the universe. It is completely mistaken. The human tendency to desire what we don’t have creates a deep, dark pit of deception and suffering in our lives, so that we can not see the natural harmony that surrounds us. Yet happiness and harmony are everywhere, all the time—it is the natural state of being.
Rather than envisioning our lives as inherently difficult, and harmony as something we must struggle and suffer for, we should see that harmony is enfolded into every action that we take. One may feel a desire to study medicine, or to learn to play a musical instrument, or to visit a foreign locale. We must realize the joy of the process, where we can enjoy the learning or the striving, rather than seeing these as necessary evils on the way toward our ultimate goal. Likewise, upon acheiving our goals we should enjoy them. We should appreciate the having of them, the being of them, rather than immediately going after the next pot of gold that crosses our path. If you struggle to start a business, then you should enjoy the actual process of the business, the trials and the challenges involved in achieving its success. And you should enjoy its operation and its management, so that your daily involvement in the business is a source of satisfaction and pleasure for you. Otherwise it is a useless endeavor, embarked upon solely as a means to an end, and the difficulties that the struggle brings into your life will render the goal a bitter and unrewarding pill to swallow. Harmony lies in the entirety of the journey, not in the destination alone.
In this same way, the beauty of the mandala lies in its essential wholeness. We do not look at a mandala and see a beautiful point in the center toward which we must impatiently struggle. Rather, we see a unified image of peace and of beauty, where harmony is glorious and resplendant, where every curve, every line, every point is an integral part of its overarching spirit. We should take in the centrality of the point as but one element in a wondrous tapestry of harmonious interaction, rather than struggle to separate the point as a goal unto itself. Without the rest of the mandala, the bindu is only a point, isolated and alone, barren of the harmony it enjoys as an element in the greater universal mandala. We must recognize the powerful link, indeed the direct correlation, that the mandala has to the universe as a whole. It is as much a product of universal evolution as are we, as complex and beautiful as anything can be. Through this connection we may study the philosophy of the mandala in order to help bring our lives into greater accordance with the forces of nature. By ceasing to struggle against the flow of the universe, by learning to enjoy every wave, every dip, every bend in the watercourse of cosmic being, we will finally find the harmony we seek, and we will realize it was within us all along.
October 25, 2009 by Peter Patrick Barreda,
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