29 Apr / The Mandala: Jung’s Pattern of Wholeness
Carl Jung (Figure 1) viewed the appearance of a mandala—a circular or squared symbol of wholeness—as highly beneficial to one’s own personal development. Mandalas can appear in a person’s dreams, visions, or fantasies, and as numinous symbols they tend to chart the course of one’s own individuation process. Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means ‘circle’ and originated from early Indian religious and cultural traditions (Jung, 1955, CW9i, para. 629). Accordingly, mandalas are archetypal images in that they can be found everywhere and at every time. Jung observed that certain symbols constantly recurred among patients of widely differing backgrounds. He found that they had occurred historically as far back as prehistoric times.
A mandala, as such, could also be conceived as a “the psychological expression of the totality of the self” (Jung, 1950/1968a, CW9i, para. 542). The garden of Eden, the heavenly Jerusalem, and Taoism’s terrace of life, could all be viewed as different kinds of mandala representations. The mandala generally consists of geometrical form—a circle or square, fluid or fixed—and suggests a symbol of order and psychic orientation. Jung (1950/1968b) further observed that “the mandala, though only a symbol of the self as the psychic totality, is at the same time a God-image, for the central point, circle, and quaternity are well-known symbols for the deity” (CW9i, para. 572). Mandalas can also appear as circular fountains, parks, radial alleys, square market places, obelisks, buildings with a circular or square shape, lakes, and rivers.
“We know from experience that the protective circle, the mandala, is the traditional antidote for chaotic states of mind” (Jung, 1954/1968, CW9i, para. 16) .
The image of a mandala demarcates the path of individuation and thus its appearance may indicate an important turning point in one’s psychological development. Jung recognized the therapeutic value of mandala images not long after his break from Sigmund Freud. He sketched his first mandala in January 1916 and named it Systema Munditotius, (System of the Whole World) (Figure 2). This mandala formed, as it were, presented a psychic blueprint for Jung’s emerging individual cosmology. In his autobiography, Jung (1961/1989) wrote:
According to historian Sonu Shamdasani (2012) Systema Munditotius “has more in common with the traditional Tibetan form of the mandala than Jung’s later mandalas, which in 1917 he came to understand as depictions of the “self”” (p. 123). When Jung (1961/1989) read Richard Wilhelm’s The Secret of the Golden Flower, he opined that the text helped him to associate the appearance of the mandala with the emergence of the self (p. 197). He added that
Later in his career, Jung came to the realization that the mandala was the circumambulation of the center (i.e., the self). Every mandala points toward an unknown goal that is rendered in symbolic terms. Mandalas seek to show ways for the personality to unify its own inner opposites. Jung wrote:
Thus, for Jung, the mandala symbol’s importance to the role of individuation, and coming to terms with the archetype of the self, could not be overemphasized.