“You Are Here!”: The Mandala as Universal Map
A map is a document of location, a covenent of security and place. It can comfort us, by showing us exactly where we are, or if we are lost it can show us the way home. The mandala shares this purpose, this powerful reason for being. Every mandala is a map of the entire universe, with all its fleeting moments, eternal truths and infinite possibilities. It is a cartography of cosmic structure, a visual representation of the potentiality of form, the variability of circumstance, the endless expressions of beauty that can emerge from the pulsing heart of being. It is as if we could stand outside of the universe and draw a diagram of the relationships we see, the interwoven threads of cause and effect that stretch from the origins of time and space into the unimaginably distant future. It is a vision of such beauty and complexity that we can never hope to fully grasp it, deep and rich beyond our capacity to understand. And for all the apparent chaos that we see around us, to all appearances it remains invariably out there—around us, enveloping and even isolating us. But whatever the mandala’s pattern, however chaotic its flow, there is always a central point, a bindu, to which its strength and stability are anchored. And this central point is the “You Are Here” label that situates you in the world.
Just as the mandala is a map of your universe and of your life, its central point represents you, surrounded by the cosmic maelstrom that is the world you live in. When you think of your world, whether as a physical location or as a cluster of circumstances, you always find yourself at the center of this mental picture. In the same manner that the elements of the mandala flow to and fro around the bindu, the elements of your life flow ceaselessly around you. It is an instinctual assumption, though a mistaken one, to think that this swirl of activity is a distinct and separate thing, that it is isolated and different from you. The illusion of separateness is a powerful psychological force that is difficult to resist. Yet ultimately the mandala shows you that you are not at the center of all things, rather you are the center of all things—you are an essential and integrated part of the whole. The mandala, then, becomes a diagram of connections, links and relations that together define the greater expanse of the universe. And the central point is not a spot around which everything happens, rather it is the focal point for all the brilliant bits of energy that define you.
Understanding our place in the scheme of things is crucial to enjoying a secure and stable state of mind. However, this “place” refers not to our centrality in a geography of chaos, but rather to our connectedness within a pattern of order. Our place at the center of existence is only a relative truth, evident to every individual that considers the matter. The mass of energy that seethes and swells unto being itself, these bits of density and movement, of potentiality and actuality, woven so intimately together that they are ultimately indistinguishable from each other, this is the ultimate expression of your self. It is this connected state that defines your life and even the universe as a whole. And it is this whole, this indivisible entirety, that is the true you. Remember that the “other” elements of existence that surround you are not really separate from you, and therefore they are not really “other” at all. The mandala teaches us that there is no such thing as other, it is all one, we are all one within it all, and that within and without are meaningless descriptions in an infinite, heterogeneous whole. We are localized regions of Being in a greater region of Being, like fractals in a never-ending series of form and function.
And so we are, very simply put, one with each other. The immediate ramifications of this fact are manifold, not least of which is the realization of the direct impact that your every action has upon everything around you. And so the only sensible behavior is behavior that benefits others and that regards the well-being of our surroundings, whether it be your neighbors, your environment, or even simply yourself. It is not a moralistic decree that you should develop a compassionate nature, nor a command thrown down by a deity greater and wiser than you. Compassion is instead a universal precept because it is the only course of behavior that recognizes the underlying unity of being. The way of violence and greed is frought with self-denial and self-hatred, because it can only be pursued by one who is blind to their place in the greater whole. And it is really very easy to suffer from this blindness, many would say it is the state of most of Humanity today. But the mandala is always there to remind you that you belong, whether as a beautiful painting or a glorious flower, as the eddies of a passing wave or the glittering stars in a velvet sky. You need only see, consider, understand.
Study the map of the mandala, feel your place in it, and suddenly the path of compassion and love will glow with the warmth of a comforting embrace. Make this path your life’s journey, for it is the only way that makes any sense at all. And it is such a beautiful stroll…
April 4, 2011 by Peter Patrick Barreda,
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