What is a Mandala?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2019
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A mandala is a geometric pattern or chart, typically circular or square, that symbolically represents the cosmos and is used for meditation purposes. The pattern originated in the Hindu religion, in which it was first used as a design element in temples, and was borrowed into Buddhism. Other religions and cultures have analogous meditation aids, and in an expanded sense, a mandala may even be a round, symmetrical building used for worship.

Creating a mandala can be a form of meditation, as well as contemplating a finished one. In Tibetan Buddhism, there are strict guidelines concerning the image's content and design, including the visualization of the piece and mantras to be recited as it is made. Different types of mandalas are used to represent different elements of Buddhist beliefs and cosmology, but they are generally full of symbolism and richly detailed.

Tibetan Buddhists also make sand mandalas, using delicate tools and colored sand to create intricate designs. After they are made and contemplated according to ceremony, they are destroyed, symbolizing the impermanence of everything. Every element of the sand mandala, from marking out the pattern, to pouring the sand, to disposing of the used sand, is ritualized. Mandalas also appear in Japanese Buddhist temples and rituals, although the sand form is unique to Tibetan Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism. Meditation or prayer aids in other religious traditions, such as the rosary of Catholicism, are considered by some to be a type of mandala.


Mandalas are used as meditation aids in a non-religious context as well. Psychologist Carl Jung saw it as a powerful tool towards personal understanding and growth. According to Jung, the mandala can be a representation of an individual's subconscious.

Drawing a personal mandala can help a person understand his or her unconscious thoughts and priorities. For example, whatever is at the center of the pattern is thought to be the most important in one's spiritual life, while things further from the center are increasingly less important. Interpreting the colors and symbols one chooses to incorporate is similar to dream interpretation or other theories of unconscious symbolism.


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