Universal Symbols of Potential and Transformation
by Margaret Bremner
I have been working as an artist for many years, and for
the past decade I have focussed on mandalas. It is an image
that suits me well, due to life-long interests in other cultures
and spirituality, and to a more recent interest in symbolism.
In my artwork the mandala is not limited to a Hindu or
Buddhist perspective. International or universal imagery
has always been of greater interest to me than local or regional
subjects, and in my investigation of mandalas I've found
them in almost every culture, time period, and belief system.
I draw on sources from around the globe.
Mandalas can be found—whether of human design or
in nature—in everything from a bicycle wheel to Stonehenge,
from the structure of atoms to a cross-section of a grapefruit.
Think for a moment about a daisy, a sunflower, a dart board,
a clock face, a snowflake.
The beginning, in east Indian traditions, was a Sound;
in the Gospel of John it was the Word; modern science proposes
a Big Bang. When a sound is made, the sound waves emanate
out from the point of origin in a mandala form—much
as do ripples on the water’s surface when a stone is
dropped in. In other creation stories, the beginning is Light,
and light waves emanate from the centre in a similar fashion.
Having neither beginning nor end, the circle has long been
a symbol—across time and culture—of eternity,
wholeness, protection, and unity. The circle evokes many
analogies such as the sun or the full moon, the circumference
of the visible horizon, the pupil of the eye, and seasonal
cycles, to name a few.
Striving toward the spiritual, humankind has, over the
centuries, constructed circle-forms. These are frequently
found in connection with spiritually-oriented activities
or locations, however ancient or modern.
Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path, a guide to right-living,
is represented by an eight-spoked wheel. European stonehenges
and the Aztec sun-calendar stone were constructed in part
to monitor the heavens and indicate the proper times for
sacred cyclical events. The stones of North American aboriginal
medicine wheels are representative of the contents of the
universe. The six-pointed Star of David has long been a symbol
of Judaism. Stained-glass rose windows in many Gothic churches
illustrate biblical themes and symbolize the light and glory
of God. Mosques and some churches are domed, as are Bahá’í houses
of worship which also have nine entrances around the perimeter,
symbolic of the welcome extended to all.
Mandala is a Sanskrit word most simply translated as “circle”.
It includes the circumference, the centre, and everything
in between. There are other translations such as “sacred
assembly”, “essence container”, and “sacred
circle”. A mandala is symbolic of the interdependence
and unity of everything in creation: all the disparate parts
are associated by virtue of their relationship to the centre.
In the West the word mandala has come to be used for artwork
in a circular form, specifically two-dimensional work constructed
in a concentric circular format, usually rather complex,
with symmetrical divisions and various elements radiating
to or from the centre. A circle inside a square (the “circle,
squared”) is understood by some to represent the connection
between our spiritual (circle) and physical (square) natures.
The four sides or corners are reminiscent of the cardinal
On a personal level a mandala is a visual expression of
the relationships between the many facets of our being. The
series of concentric forms suggests a progressive passage
between stages of development. Thus a mandala is also a symbol
of potential and of transformation.
On a grander level, a mandala is a cosmogram, a human-scale
symbol of the universe. It represents everything from the
enormity of a whirling galaxy to the microscopic particles
of an atom. And again, it reminds us of the links between
the various parts of a whole.
Some feel that mandalas can be divided into two basic types:
teaching mandalas and healing mandalas. Generally with teaching
mandalas it is the end product that is important and the
purpose is to convey certain truths or principles. With healing
mandalas it is the process that is important and the aim
is to bring healing, comfort, or peace.
In some cultures mandalas are used as meditation tools.
Meditation with a mandala can go in two directions, both
beneficial. It could lead the thoughts inward towards a better
understanding of the self, or outward to a more expansive
and open view of others and the universe.
For Buddhists a mandala is sometimes a two-dimensional
representation of a three-dimensional space, with a temple
at the centre. The meditator is to mentally create the three
dimensions in his mind on his meditative journey into the
temple, wherein resides a particular deity whose qualities
he hopes to acquire.
Position yourself at the centre of a mandala and the Seven
Sacred Directions of the North American natives can be imagined:
east, south, west, and north, (or front, right, back, and
left), then upward (toward the heavens and the Creator),
downward (toward the Earth), and inward (toward self-knowledge).
An investigation of mandalas will touch on many cultures,
times, societies, and beliefs, all aiming to discover the
harmony in the diversity of the universe, and so to find
one’s way to the centre.
Margaret Bremner has been a working
artist for almost thirty years. Her work tends to be vibrantly
coloured and finely
detailed. Lately she has been working in mixed media, acrylic,
and coloured pencil. She has always preferred geometry to
algebra! There will be an exhibition of some of Margaret’s
mandalas at The Gallery, Frances Morrison Library, Saskatoon
from April 13 until May 13. For more information and to view
some of her work please visit www.artistsincanada.com/bremner and www.bahai-library.org/bafa/bremner.htm. You can contact
her by e-mail: email@example.com or phone 306) 382-0545.