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Volume 10 Issue 6
March/April 2005

Universal Symbols of Potential and Transformation

Cranberries: Food and Medicine

Harvesting Plants From a Native Wild Environment

Seeds of Zen in the Prairies
Introducing Maurine Stuart

The Healing Power of Zhong Guo Hui Gong Therapy
Chinese Wisdom Qi Gong


Universal Symbols of Potential and Transformation

by Margaret Bremner
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 compass directions.

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: artwrite@sasktel.net or phone 306) 382-0545.


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