The Mandala Forest
When we think of mandalas, we usually think of spiritually oriented, wheel shaped artwork, or perhaps natural forms like snowflakes which approximate mandalas.  Few of us would consider actually living in a mandala like setting.  This is not the case for inventor, designer, and futurist, Jacque Fresco, whose concept known as the Venus Project incorporates cities that resemble the ancient circular art form.  The center of the Fresco mandala, however, is not a religious temple, but a computer automated control hub, and examining a layout of the city design, there is no mention of spiritual or religious spaces.  What we see instead is a dedication to science, nature, and the human being, through a very specific lens of how the future might look.  As such, one cannot help but ask what it would really mean to live in such a place.

The city itself is designed to maximize open space and eliminate the need for automobiles through a light rail system.  Energy and food are produced within the city in order to increase both its sustainability and its self sufficiency.  Fresco hopes to actually construct a working prototype city in the near future, though his vision is more of a holistic approach to human living, and will therefore rely on networked cities operating together on a resource based economy, in order to create a peaceful and equitable living system.  The notion of the eco-city itself is gaining steam.  In Tianjin, China, an eco-city is in the works for completion in 2020, though the design is much more irregular and organic than Fresco's symmetrical design. 

Because we do indeed need a new system for human living, Jacque Fresco's approach is attractive on a lot of levels.  But it's requirement for a full system makeover is both appealing, as well as a potential stumbling block.  What might seem like a utopia to some, to others may appear to be a sort of totalitarian encroachment.   The way it apparently elevates humanity, science, and nature above religion, will mean that his city isn't going to sit well with religious fundamentalists, and if you listen to him speak, that becomes even more apparent.  I don't think he should compromise his beliefs in the matter, but he's not going to get anything close to a global consensus. 

In order for Fresco's computerized and secular mandala city model to take shape, there will be several necessary components.  One is the healing of individual trauma, alluded to in the Zeitgeist: Moving Forward film which also features Fresco's work, and which I first encountered on the Transangeles blog.   This will be especially true amongst those who actually support the Venus project, because those who oppose it will not get on board, and often will see no need to heal their own trauma.

The second necessity that I see is the city must live up to its promise being able to produce a surplus of both free time for the individual and then also a surplus of material products, whether they be food, energy, or technology, that can be used to finance and create the next city.  In this way, the system could become self replicating, which will be an important part in realizing this dream that clearly flies in the face of vested power structures and religious extremists.  The Venus project can't just be a really good idea only if everyone would just get on board.  It has to be viable as a single city, even when most people won't know what to make of it.  It will have to prove that it truly is something people will want to organically join, with the knowledge that in doing so there will be tangible benefits from the very beginning, even before the first ground is broken.

Because of this, it also needs to either be scalable or have a degree of functionality at various levels of development.  The project will have to provide for its members along the way, and not be seen as a sort of all or nothing undertaking, because what Fresco is talking about isn't simply the construction of a city, but the transformation of a culture, which is not something you can engineer the way you engineer a vertical farm.  Cultures change of their own accord over time. The process is not predictable or controllable like a light rail train schedule, and those who attempt to make it so are doomed to fail either outright, or through the realization of a totalitarian process rather than a beneficial vision.  This is the major challenge that Fresco faces: having people voluntarily assuming a cultural modality in which this city could both exist and be genuinely welcomed.  Issues around freedom and individuality will certainly come to play, but if the city were to arise in a truly organic fashion, rather than handed down by a lone visionary on high, then perhaps  some day we really will be living inside a mandala.

I took the mandala art posters  from this site and combined them into a music video, featuring a track by Stars of the Lid called "The Evil that Never Arrived." I hope you enjoy this five minute meditation.
One of my favorite speakers was the zen teacher Alan Watts.  In the video clip above about duality and the concept of the higher self, he alludes to the mandala form in reference to detachment and nonduality, when he says:

"And this person who doesn’t stick anywhere is like Dante's image at the end of the Paradiso where he says in the presence of the vision of God, but my volition now and my desires were moved as a wheel revolving evenly by love that moves the sun and other stars.  And the image of the wheel which is not too tight on its axle and not too loose, that is really with the axle, is the Zen principal of not being attached.  Not being sticky."

My last post about the Reconciliation Mandala fits into this discussion of the sense of duality and separateness.  Watts talks about understanding the reality of the one true self, without being caught up in illusions of fighting for the attainment of a higher self or fighting off one's sense of separation.  According to Alan, actively struggling with an illusion of a separate higher self or an ego would only strengthen a delusional inner fragmentation.   He also mentioned the mandala image from the Paradiso  in Volume 1, number 5 of the Haight Ashbury Tribune.

"People have always been fascinated by circles of glory, known in India as of mandala: the rose windows of Gothic cathedrals, Byzantine mosaic upon the inner surface of a dome, the radiant and radiating petals of certain flowers, the design of snow-crystals, precious stones set in coronas of vari-colored gems, and mandala proper as they are found in Tibetan painting--circular paradise-gardens with their jeweled plants and trees surrounding an inner circle of Dhyani Buddhas and their at  attendant Bodhisattvas.  It is in this form, too, that Dante described his vision of God, ringed by the saints and angels, at the end of the Paradiso."

Watts was something of an iconoclast, pushing aside religious dogma and illuminating the fact that symbols were not the reality itself, and should not be mistaken for reality, as they often are.  One of my favorite examples of this was when Watts talked about the symbolic nature of money, and the lunacy of something like the Great Depression, in which the money simply wasn't there anymore to do the necessary work.  To Watts, such a scenario would be like showing up at a construction site, and the foreman saying, we can't work today because we ran out of inches.  Because of Watts's suspicion of symbols I think his reference to mandalas, like his command of language, should be seen as simply an arrow pointing to a fundamental reality beyond representation. 

His article in the Haight Asbury Tribune goes on to describe his wish to see or create a sort of psychedelic mandala light projection inside a planetarium, which would engage all the senses and move one through scenes of both horror and beauty, eventually engulfing the individual to the point that they were literally absorbed into this naturalistic mandala experience, and then, it would just shut off to the "here and now."  This seems to support the notion that Watts would have been less interested in a mandala symbolizing something, and more interested in an actual experience of a manifested mandala which reveals something about reality experientially.  With the advances of technology, someone may very well realize Watt's vision, though the mandala light show he described may be a thing of virtual reality rather than planetarium projections.