The Mandala Forest
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. 

In today's fast paced advanced societies, we are constantly faced with a myriad of stressors that in moderation can help us gain a sense of strength and accomplishment, and in large quantities can make us constantly anxious, overwhelm us, and cause us to feel that our lives are spinning out of control.  Playing out in real time in the background of this high speed modern stage of ups and downs are the harsh realities of war, widespread poverty, and environmental devastation.  For the minority of the world's population that live within the neat confines of the suburbanized and walled off wealthy Western nations, the chaos and destruction of the world at large exists in a sort of cultural subconscious.  It is through this lens that I touch on the mandala and address one of the technological approaches to the challenges we face. 

Searching the internet for interesting articles about mandalas, I came across a video that demonstrates the integration of technology and human brainwaves.  I had first encountered a similar biofeedback program when a friend of mine lent me a copy of the  new age themed video game Wild Divine.  Using a pulse and skin conductivity sensor that clips to the fingers and plugs into the computer, the game teaches the player to modulate mental states and achieve relaxed focus.  Today, personalized and integrated brainwave sensors, pioneered by NeuroSky (SkyNet anyone?) and Emotiv, are on the cutting edge of high tech self monitoring, which groups like Quantified Self take very seriously.

A man by the name Beer van Geer recently developed the Dagaz app for use with NeuroSky's hardware.  The program, as demonstrated in the video, teaches viewers to enter into a meditative state through the interactive biofeedback based process of creating mandalas with one's mind.  A fascinating goal put forth by van Geer is to eventually refine the Dagaz application so that "players" across the world can co‐create mandalas in cyberspace, and perhaps even develop a sort of technologically mediated "telepathy."

Certainly we can see the potential benefits of biofeedback in general, whether they be overcoming addictions and phobias ,to improving focus in the classroom, to deepening our meditative practice.  Yet as programs like Wild Divine and Dagaz and the Dalai Lama's virtual tour of a three dimensional virtual mandala illustrate, technology and spirituality are openly fusing.  This is not entirely problematic, in the sense that through technology we are able to transmit significant or spiritual matters to wider audiences.  Yet through technology, the very landscape of human experience and what it means to be human, is changing.

And this is where we should be asking difficult questions, because things are getting a bit strange.  At some point we may very well come to regret the actualization of technological forces which, through a convergence of advanced self monitoring and biofeedback, genetic manipulation, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, computer mediated communication interfaces, high tech security monitoring, augmented reality, facial recognition tech, 3D geometry video scanning, state of the art rendering, digitized monetary transactions, RFID chips, cybernetic implantation and transhumanism, and virtual lives created through online worlds like Second Life, we become fully integrated into a global technology net, a complex quasi living electrical grid.  At a time of great turmoil and environmental degradation, we are fast approaching the merging of man and machine. Even today, this sentiment may sound a bit sci‐fi, but the rapid pace of innovation has set the stage for such a convergence, barely noticeable to those of us in the advanced cultures who take these high speed transitions as the norm with little consideration of long term systemic effects.  

As we ponder these seemingly inevitable crossroads, it would be good to ask ourselves a question that echoes the words of Terence McKenna: is it humanity, nature, or technology (0r some combination of the three) which we put in the center of our mandala? To what ends?  It is interesting to note the interconnections between the advent of the world wide web, open source code, wikis (and wikiLeaks), social networking, and the like, alongside the notions of technological singularity,  environmental systems awareness, and the "oneness" spiritual movements we see emerging in the West.  Perhaps we can see some trends coming to the fore, but it remains to be seen what the ramifications in human consciousness will be if increasing numbers of the historically unprecedented human populace are further separated from the natural life sustaining processes of planet earth.  Perhaps there is a way to balance our newly developed, technologically mediated lives with the necessary natural processes that sustain us.  And perhaps our increased interconnection through the internet will function to create a more integrated collective human conciousness.   It is up to us to decide what is valuable, what content we will emphasize, and how we apply it to our 3d lives. 
The circle appears in various forms in nature, but humans have also made use of the circle for practical and culturally symbolic reasons.  The coin is one such example.  While it might seem strange on the surface to connect the mandala with the coin, as they apparently only have in common their circular form, there are a few deeper connections.  The coin, like the mandala, is a physical, cultural manifestation symbolic of something intangible.  In the case of the coin, this symbolic representation is that of the value of work.  The Alcoholics Anonymous chip represents work done in the name of staying sober and becoming a healthier individual.

The quarter is the kind of currency one carries as the result of work done at a job or a profession.  In a perfect world, this type of coin, circle, mandala, or symbolic token would represent the type of reward given for providing a good or service that helps the wider community.  While true perhaps much of the time, we cannot really make that generalization.  Unlike the AA community, the societies that issue such coins work internally at crossed purposes often with unethical and manipulative intent, which in some professions is actually encouraged rather seen as contradictory to the value structure.

Like the mandala, these two coins serve as tangible reminders and reinforcers of a certain type of reality, and the types of reality that these mini metallic mandalas stand in for are quite different.  One is a reality of spiritual growth, mutual support, and psychological healing.  The other is of competition and materialism.  It is interesting to note that the AA's sobriety chip, a loosely run organization literally by the people, issues the statement "To Thine Own Self Be True," whereas the coin of the more centralized and militarily backed US government tells us "In God We Trust."  This is not an indictment of trust in God, but a question about the intent, genuineness, and effect that these statements have within the context they are presented.  Do we really trust in God, as the quarter indicates (or perhaps commands), or is it money that is the real religion of advanced societies?  If we recognize the centrality that money plays in human lives, it is not a stretch to realize the power our culturally selected mandalas have over us, and the power they have to shape our reality.

I just completed the three black and white mandalas below which can be downloaded and printed off from this website for free, and used as coloring pages.  They can be found under the Mandalas heading, under Free Mandala Coloring Pages. Enjoy!
Last night I completed a new mandala design which I have transformed into two mandala posters.  The first mandala, to the left, I've entitled Ancient Intuitions, named for a quote from the book The Theory and Practice of the Mandala, as well as the earthy colors and mysterious geometric elements, which called to mind a lost and mysterious civilization.  The second version, on the right, which uses the same design with different coloration, is entitled the New Dawn Mandala.  I was amazed at how the different color schemes alone created two totally different mandalas, in spite of their common design.  The New Dawn mandala has a real warmth to it, and a bit more of a delicate or ethereal quality.   Both of these images can be seen in greater detail by clicking on them in the Mandala art gallery, and can be purchased as 23"x35"  prints.
Just seconds before the clock struck midnight and 2011 officially began, Terence McKenna's voice came through my computer and spoke the following lines from his speech on psychedelic society.

"In the moment of being human we have the unique opportunity to figure things out. And I have the faith that it is possible to, some time somewhere, to have a conversation, perhaps no progress would be made until the ninth hour, but to have a conversation in which reality could be literally pulled to pieces beyond the point of reconstructing."

Just as McKenna finished this sentence, the loud crack of fireworks erupted outside, punctuating his words through the disintigrations of pyrotechnic light and mandalic sound.

What did McKenna mean by pulling apart reality beyond the point of reconstructing?  The notion sounds a bit frightening, in its apparent call for a process of fundamental destruction.  As a self proclaimed anarchist, one would have to wonder what sort of world he is envisioning as he describes the necessary process of ideological breakdown, which he compares to a friend's fourteen hour LSD  induced annihilation of a brick using nothing more than a toothpick and his fingernails. 

In another speech, which he entitles Nature is the Center of the Mandala, McKenna puts forth the following image. 

"What we’re looking toward is a moment when the artificial language structures which bind us  within the notion of ourselves are dissolved in the presence of the realization that we are a part of nature, and when that happens the childhood of our species will pass away, and we will stand tremulously on the brink of really the first moments of coherent human civilization."

In 1992, at his Camden Center talk, McKenna said

"What we have to do is swallow hard, in a similar way that the Russians had to swallow hard, and admit we did it wrong, and now the only way out is back, we must return to the archaic world of shamanism, mutual respect among men and women, a sense of seamless cohesion with the living world. If this is not done, then the experiment fails."

In his speeches, Terence McKenna said both that nature is the center of the mandala, and we as individuals are the center of the mandala.  While it might seem somewhat contradictory to interchange impersonal natural systems with particular human consciousness as the central element of reality,  McKenna was suggesting the deep reconnection between man and nature.  This state of reintegration into the the natural world was part of what McKenna saw as the eschaton, or "the last thing," a time beyond history.  He believed that we have entered a sort of cosmic bottle neck, that time and the rate of complexification are speeding up, and that massive transformation is immanent. 


A few weeks after I purchased a copy of  Healing with Form, Energy, and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche I noticed the similarity between the mandala on the cover of the book and the Windows Vista logo.  I had a chance to ask the cover artist, Mary Ellen McCourt Huehner, about this similarity and she said that the five elements and their traditional colors from the Bon religion were around long before modern technology, let alone the development of the Vista logo. These five elements are earth (yellow), water (blue), fire (red), air(green), and space(white or colorless).  She mentioned that the particular mandala that appears on the cover of the book was a combination of her own experiential vision and a collaborative effort between herself  and Tenzin Rinpoche, who in reference to the elements, states on page nine of his book that "These  are the five aspects of pure luminosity, the rainbow-like energies of the single sphere of existence."  These elements make up the rainbow body, which, according to the Bon tradition, is attained through spiritual mastery.  Native Americans also speak of a prophescy of the Rainbow Warrior.

It's uncanny that not only the shapes and colors of these two images are so close, but also the arrangement of the colors are nearly identical.  While Mary Ellen's elemental mandala makes a stronger use of the color white in it's central depiction of space, the curved squares of color in the Windows logo subtly fade to white as they approach the colorless center of the figure.  Whether or not the Windows Vista logo designers were tapped into some sort of Jungian collective unconscious or the underlying interconnected reality, accidentally approximating a Bon mandala, is a question that will not likely be answered.  Maybe the Windows logo is serving as a sort of hidden vehicle for widespread expression of elemental consciousness or the rainbow body.   Perhaps it is an urgent reminder of the underlying nature of reality to those of us in the technologically dominated Western world who are attempting to "tune in."  Or perhaps it is a signal of the immanent arrival of some form of Rainbow Consciousness.Interestingly enough, the primary expression of the Vista logo is through a computer screen, which is an emanation (rather than a reflection) of "luminosity."  

UPDATE: A little over a month after creating this post, I stumbled upon a blog in which the author also raises questions about the archypal form of the Simon game.  You can read his post here.

The traditional colors of the Bon elements show up in other places, occasionally in forms approximating mandalas. The popular game Simon, also made use of sound and light. Lost Season 3, Episode 1 (Tale of Two Cities) features a closeup of the Talking Heads album art from Speaking in Tongues. Lost Season 1, Episode 14 features a hospital scene, with a poster bearing the red green yellow blue colors.
I find it fascinating when seemingly unrelated thoughts and activities connect and overlap, or when a series of related events come together apparently by chance, and in the process create unexpected richness through relationship and synchronicity.  For the last few days, UFO's have been on my mind, and yesterday  I watched the CNN coverage of the National Press Club disclosure of  US Air Force officers recounting their UFO experiences.   Whether or not you believe in ET encounters on Earth, the video was pretty interesting.  For the most part they seemed quite genuine in their accounts of strange flying light phenomena during their military service.

That night I dreamed that I came to stay at a place of study that bordered on a carved out geologic feature like a small canyon with a large perfectly circular cutout on the rocky ground.  In the dream, I thought of this circle as something carved out by alien intelligence.  Also of note in the dream were the walls of this canyon, which  contained distinct striations and dramatic mineral veins.

Today was I struck by a few portions of text from The Theory and Practice of the Mandala by Giuseppe Tucci, which I came across for the first time.  On page 22, he says

"It must not be imagined that the pictorial representation of the mandala is peculiar to the Buddhists, who have, indeed, only given greater precision to the elaboration of a most ancient intuition which, with the passage of time, has become clarified and has also adopted some alien conceptions, at least as far as the exterior pattern is concerned." 

Alien in this case refers to foreign or outside, but I could not help but feel a synchronicity here.  On the following page he goes on to say: 

"A mandala is much more than just a consecrated area that must be kept pure for ritual and liturgical ends.  It is, above all, a map of the cosmos.  It is the whole universe in its essential plan, in its process of emanation and of reabsorption.  The universe not only in its inert spatial expanse, but as temporal revolution and both as a vital process which develops from an essential principle and rotates around a central axis, Mount Sumeru, the axis of the world on which the sky rests and which sinks its roots into the mysterious substratum."

"Mysterious substratum" were the words that immediately jumped out at me, which I would say described very nicely the canyon like feature of my dream.  But what was also interesting was the way Tucci linked the entire cosmos with this conception of a very tangible yet enigmatic ground, in the same way that the circular trace left by the alien spacecraft of my dream also tied together the earth and the whole of the universe.  As the mandala itself is a tool for spiritual transformation, perhaps in this light, the mandala could be viewed not only as a map, but a sort of  "space vehicle" in its own right.  The mandala, like the dream, is a point of integration between earth and cosmos, or the physical and the spiritual.  It is a symbolic and perhaps actual bridge, convergence, or nexus  constructed through human consciousness.