|The Tree of Life Mandala
Mandalas have a history going back to before civilization, and have been found in some form in every religion or spiritual practice on the planet. When people think of mandalas, they typically visualize complex two-dimensional pictures created by Buddhist monks or Native American Shamans, which have higher spiritual meaning. A true mandala is defined as a square, surrounding a circle, which surrounds a point at the center. These three things correspond with the Physical World of Order (square) the Unseen world of the Universal One, (circle) and the individual consciousness (point). There are many manifestations of the mandala, being as simple as the Yin Yang, or as complex as the stained glass windows on ancient European churches. It is commonly thought that a mandala is representative of Greater Reality, no matter where it is found.
When I began doing research on how to create a mandala of my own, with my own special meaning behind it, I found that the instructions for creating them were difficult to get hands-on information about. Websites had no detail, or the detail was in jargon and lingo I didn’t understand. I finally found several books on the subject, the most notable being “Mandalas of the World” by Rudiger Dahlke. From the information I found in these books, I have begun to create my own mandala.
One of the metaphors that I ran across in my research is this: To begin creating a mandala, one must take a top-down view of the subject of the mandala, much like looking down at a big tree from the sky. The center of the picture will be the “point” of the top of the tree. The “circle” will be the branches and leaves, while the roots wind up being the “Square” on the outside.
This reminds me of the Tree of Life Mandala, a mandala for everyone, explaining our natural place in the natural order of things. The outer layer, or Roots, is our Square. This is how we put order to the outside universe. Humans turn naturally round things into squares, then we use squares as a measure of “balance” and “rightness”. Houses, tables, computers, or paper; everything we know and love as “correct” has right angles and straight sides. However, anyone who has ever left a 2X4 in the yard for a season knows that nature hates straight lines. Yet, we continue to judge structure by straight lines. This is like our “roots”….we must know where we stand upon the earth, just like the fir tree. Our mandala square is our root structure.
The branches of any tree, when given balanced light and nutrients, typically come up round no matter what variety of tree we look at. All tree trunks are round. For that matter, all Suns, planets, sunflowers, cloverleaves, pinecones, seeds, berries, bones, etc. come out round. There’s something to be said about roundness that is very natural and dynamic. Branches and leaves of a tree are the source of energy for that tree. As the sun shines down, the leaves absorb the sunlight and translate that into nutrition for the tree. This also corresponds to our mandala.
The circular part of the mandala represents our Invisible world, the world where all are One, where I recognize that you are no different from me. This is where we recognize that our friends and family are sources of energy for us. The interchange is not between the Sun and the Leaves, but between your consciousness and mine. This can only happen if I accept you exactly as you are, and recognize that you are me at some deeper level.
The point in the center of the Tree of Life is the Self, which corresponds to the tip of the top of the tree. This is the point of the tree that receives the most sunlight, where the newest growth can be found, where the energy of the tree itself culminates at a point. This is the inner “I”, the individual. This part of the tree is the most dynamic; this point of the mandala is the most illusive. It is here, at the center of it all, which we find ourselves when left to our own thoughts.
When we look at the distance between the square and the circle, we notice that there is less space than we have between the circle and the point. This is representational of the balance of the Tree of Life. A tree’s roots typically have a mass that is equivalent to the portion of the tree above ground. This keeps the tree structure in balance. The space between square and circle, therefore, represents the nearly equal size of the Visible and Invisible Universes. This means that most of the detail of a mandala, and most of the excitement of the Tree of Life, happen between the Circle (or Branches) and the Point (or Top.) Different traditions put these details in different formats and symbols, but that’s where you will find almost all the detail in mandalas, and all the excitement in life.
As we add detail, we can see that squirrels and birds in the tangling branches are equivalent to the figures of triangles, flowers, jewels, monsters, and other constructs we find in mandalas. Some mandalas incorporate yet another circle beyond the square, symbolizing the Bigger Order of the Universe, or the planet Earth in comparison to the tree metaphor. Some mandalas have other shapes like triangles, teardrops, or spirals in the space between the point and the circle. It is these details that make each mandala unique to it’s purpose. The mandala can symbolize anything at all, whether it can be verbalized, visualized, or conceptualized.
The Tree of Life encompasses all things, and all things are a part of the Tree of Life. We can find our roots, branch out to others, and reach for the very top. We can square our debts, circle around with our friends, and point out our own path work. These metaphors only scratch the surface of what we find when we meditate on the Tree of Life Mandala.
Consider your own Tree of Life, and what details you would have playing in the limbs of your circle. What twists and turns will your branches take? Where do you put your roots? Which direction is your highest leaf pointed? What details lie between the point of the inner you and the circle of community around you? How do you bring order to your chaos? The answers to these questions will help guide you to discover the mandala you have already created of your own life. All you have to do now is draw it!