I was recently sent a link for a blog post that was sharing a person's deep concern about the use of mandalas. This person had been given a gift of an adult colouring book, which are all the rage at the moment. They were bewildered to find that many of the pictures and patterns in the book were mandalas. The person writing the blog had done some research into the use of mandalas and focused in on one way of understanding their use in Hinduism and Buddhism which talks about them as a spiritual tool "to merge" with the deity. This person's opinion was that this would open the door to demons. These new colouring books encourage people to spend time reflectively colouring mandalas and in so doing our tricking us into merging with deities. The conclusion - Christians should not colour mandalas.
Well, as a Christian who has a great love of mandalas, I feel I must put forward a different view. My first concern is that there is a view that one or two particular faith traditions "own" mandalas. A mandala is a circle. They are found in nature and in society every you go in this world and beyond to the universe. I don't think it is any accident that the circle in most cultures is symbolic of wholeness and universality. Some traditions have used the mandala more than others in their spiritual practices and have become known for this. Others, like Christianity, have also used the mandala perhaps without being conscious we are doing so. There are an enormous amount of old cathedrals that have beautiful rosary windows or a circular layout. We are happy to call this sacred geometry, but have not been as familiar with the term mandala. I do not see the mandala as something that particular people own. It is something we all innately relate to, but maybe our culture has forgotten its significance.
My second comment comes from my own experience with mandalas. Some of you will know that I have done a bit of work with mandalas and spiritual direction over the last 6 years that has involved my leading workshops where people create their own mandala. My own personal experience, and what I have heard from others, is that there can be a "merging with the deity" that I happen to call God. I have a large mandala on my office wall that I created and it speaks to me quietly of a time when God was stirring me about my call to ministry and my faith journey at the time. Creating the mandala was a "God moment" for me and I don't believe any demons were involved at all. To say that mandalas are not of God negates many people's experiences of connecting with God throughout history.
Thirdly, I would like to say that I don't have a problem with us (as one faith tradition) learning from another. If we become so arrogant that we shut the rest of the world out in order to believe that we have it right, we are really missing out. I have had conversations with Buddhist and Muslim friends that have truly enriched my own faith journey. In my opinion, talking and learning and experiencing do not compromise our own position. In fact, in my view it only strengthens it. I have seen my discovery of the mandala as a gift. I first learnt about them from reading about Hildegard of Bingen, a medieval Christian mystic. This lead me to explore further, reading about the Tibetan monks and many other cultures and religions that use mandalas in a variety of ways.
And so my plea to those who would say that Christians should not use mandalas - don't rob those of us who love mandalas from a rich and beautiful experience. They are not for everyone, but don't use fear or ignorance to forbid others of what I consider is a God-given gift.
I will be running an Introduction to Mandalas Workshop in Margaret River on May 28th.