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Mandala (Sanskrit: मण्डल Maṇḍala, ‘circle’) is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the Universe. The basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the general shape of a T. Mandalas often exhibit radial balance.
The term is of Sanskrit origin. It appears in the Rig Veda as the name of the sections of the work, but is also used in other religions and philosophies, particularly Buddhism.
In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of practitioners and adepts, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.
In common use, mandala has become a generic term for any diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm of the universe.
Forms which are evocative of mandalas are prevalent in Christianity: the celtic cross; the rosary; the halo; the aureole; oculi; the Crown of Thorns; rose windows; the Rosy Cross; and the dromenon (labyrinth) on the floor of Chartres Cathedral. The dromenon represents a journey from the outer world to the inner sacred centre where the Divine is found.
In his pioneering exploration of the unconscious through his own art making, Carl Jung observed the motif of the circle spontaneously appearing. The circle drawings reflected his inner state at that moment. Familiarity with the philosophical writings of India prompted Jung to adopt the word “mandala” to describe these circle drawings he and his patients made. In his autobiography, Jung wrote:
“I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing,…which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time….Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is:…the Self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious.”
—Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp 195 – 196.
“The mandala serves a conservative purpose—namely, to restore a previously existing order. But it also serves the creative purpose of giving expression and form to something that does not yet exist, something new and unique….The process is that of the ascending spiral, which grows upward while simultaneously returning again and again to the same point.”
—Jungian analyst Marie Louise von Franz, C. G. Jung: “Man and His Symbols,” p. 225
According to the psychologist David Fontana, its symbolic nature can help one “to access progressively deeper levels of the unconscious, ultimately assisting the meditator to experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises.”
Text excerpts from Mandala at Wikipedia
The late physician swami Sivananda considered sight the most abused of our five senses. The first chapter in his treatise, Yoga Asanas, describes an extensive series of eye exercises. As with any yogic practice, the purpose of these exercises isn’t just health. According to Swami Sitaramananda, director of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center of San Francisco, “The fastest way to bring the mind into concentration is through the eyes.”
Though it may seem fanciful, this correlation between eyes and mind has a profound physiological basis. Vision occupies about 40 percent of the brain’s capacity; that’s why we close our eyes to relax and fall asleep. And four of our 12 cranial nerves are dedicated exclusively to vision, while two other nerves are vision-related. Contrast this with the cardiac and digestive functions, which require just one cranial nerve to control both.
The first exercise begins with the eyelids open, the head and neck still, and the entire body relaxed. Picture a clock face in front of you, and raise your eyeballs up to 12 o’clock. Hold them there for a second, then lower the eyeballs to six o’clock. Hold them there again. Continue moving the eyeballs up and down 10 times, without blinking if possible. Your gaze should be steady and relaxed. Once you finish these 10 movements, rub your palms together to generate heat and gently cup them over your eyes, without pressing. Allow the eyes to relax in complete darkness. Concentrate on your breathing, feel the warm prana emanating from your palms, and enjoy the momentary stillness.
Follow this exercise with horizontal eye movements—from nine o’clock to three o’clock—ending again by “palming” (cupping your hands over your eyes). Then do diagonal movements—two o’clock to seven o’clock, and 11 o’clock to four o’clock—again followed by palming. Conclude the routine with 10 full circles in each direction, as though you are tracing the clock’s rim.
These eyeball movements provide balance for people who do work up close, like students who spend a lot of their time reading or working at computers. According to Robert Abel, author of The Eye Care Revolution, these brief exercises “compensate for overdevelopment of the muscles we use to look at near objects.”
You might be surprised to learn that the palming part of this exercise provides more than a pleasant respite. According to Abel, our photoreceptors break down and are reconstructed every minute. “The eye desperately needs darkness to recover from the constant stress of light,” he says. “And the simplest way to break eye stress is to take a deep breath, cover your eyes, and relax.”
Along with palming, yoga in general benefits the eyes by relieving tension. While the effect of yoga on the eyes has not been scientifically measured, studies have shown that a simple exercise like walking can lower pressure in the eyeball by 20 percent.
Vasanthi Bhat, a yoga teacher in the Sivananda tradition, includes asanas like Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), in her video, Yoga for Eyes. “These asanas bring circulation to the face, neck, and shoulders, which need to be energized and relaxed for improved vision,” Bhat explains. So even if you have not been doing asanas specifically for your eyes, your overall yoga practice is helping your vision.
Looking High, Looking Low
Once students have mastered the basic eyeball exercise, Srinivasan introduces an intermediate series of eye exercises which he calls “shifting focus.”
While sitting relaxed and still, pick a point in the distance and focus on it. Extend your arm and put your thumb right underneath the point of concentration. Now begin shifting your focus between the tip of your thumb and the faraway point, alternating rhythmically between near and distance vision. Repeat the exercise 10 times, then relax your eyes with palming and deep breathing. As you practice this exercise, you are training an organ called the ciliary body, which adjusts the lens of the eye. Habitual focus patterns degrade the ciliary body’s natural flexibility. Shifting focal points counteracts this stiffness by exercising the organ through its full range, much as we work complementary muscle groups in asana practice.
The final eye asana taught in the Sivananda series stresses close-range focus. As in the shifting focus exercise, gaze at your thumb with your arm extended. This time move the thumb slowly toward the tip of your nose. Pause there for one second. Then reverse the sequence, following the thumb with your eyes as you extend your arm again. As before, repeat the sequence 10 times, then relax with palming.
By training the eyes to focus on the ajna chakra (the “third eye,” located between and just above the eyebrows) a yogi trains his mind to turn inward. On a more prosaic level, close-range focus exercises can forestall the need for reading glasses.
Perhaps you’ve seen a picture of a yogi staring at a candle flame. If so, you’ve seen trataka, an eye-cleansing exercise described in theUpanishads and mentioned in other yogic texts, including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Trataka can also be found in the texts of ayurveda(traditional Indian medicine), where it is recommended to stimulate the alochaka pitta, the energy center related to sight. But as always with yoga, there’s a connection between physiology and the more subtle aspects of spiritual practice. According to Dr. Marc Halpern, founder and director of the California College of Ayurveda, the practice of trataka decreases mental lethargy and increases buddhi (intellect).
Although traditionally performed with a candle, trataka can use almost any external point of focus, like a dot on the wall. Concentrate your gaze on one object, without blinking, until your eyes begin to tear. Then close your eyes and try to maintain a vivid image of that object for as long as possible. Each time you practice trataka, extend the time you maintain the after-image.
This exercise, traditionally believed to remove any disease from the eyes and to induce clairvoyance, also develops the skill of internal visualization. Yogis develop this skill to keep their minds fixed in meditation on a sacred image—and, by extension, on the divine experience associated with that image. The intricate spiritual mandalas you may have see in Indian and Tibetan holy books are also designed for this purpose. Highly skilled meditators can visualize even the most minute details of these elaborate cosmic representations. By perfectly aligning inner and outer focus, these yogis seek a realization like that of Meister Eckhart, a thirteenth-century Christian mystic who once declared, “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.”
Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Yoga For the Eyes BY FERNANDO PAGÉS RUIZ
A seafloor mandala created by a five inch male pufferfish to attract females. The males spend seven to nine days swimming back and forth while hitting the sand with fins and tail in strategic spots. They also adorn the peaks with shells and coral. The circles can be up to seven feet in diameter. After a mate is attracted, they mate and she lays her eggs in the center of the circle. The male sticks around till the eggs hatch, but no longer maintains the circle once the task of attracting a female has been successfully accomplished. Amazing!