This is Post 3 in the ‘Mandala of Love’ book blog series.
The Mandala is an archetype – a universal symbol or pattern. Images that reflect this archetypal pattern are found in all cultures throughout history, and in the dreams and visions of humanity since the beginning of recorded history. For Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, the mandala was a symbol of the wholeness of the psyche and of the cosmos – even a symbol of God. The Cross, the symbol of Christianity, is the most prominent example of a mandala image in world history. For Jung, the life of Jesus was a profound spiritual mystery – one that preoccupied him for the whole of his life. For him, Jesus was a man who lived a mythic life; and the crucifixion of Jesus was, for Jung, both an historical event and a mythic mandala image. It was one of the most important parts of his life’s work, that humanity should better understand this great symbol. Indeed, he found the lack of understanding of that symbol, and of the person of Jesus, to be both tragic and dangerous for the future of humanity.
Carl Jung’s Mandala Archetype
Carl Jung passionately wanted to bring about a healing and a renewal of Christianity, so that it could meet the modern world with a new wisdom and integrity. His search for understanding of the mandala archetype played a key part in that quest. To understand the depth of Jung’s passion in this regard, it is important to understand that he was the son of a protestant pastor, and that he had witnessed, in the course of his childhood, his father’s loss of faith, a painful experience whose impact never left him. He was also painfully conscious by the end of his life that Christianity had failed to prevent a bloody revolution in Russia, two horrific world wars, the rise of modern fascism, the Holocaust, and the nuclear arms race of the cold war era.
The Cross as a Universal Symbol
So, for Jung, the image of the Cross was a manifestation in Western history and culture of a something larger – something fundamental to humanity as a whole. The Cross was a particular expression, indeed a particularly powerful and confronting one, in a family of expressions, which reflect the mandala’ archetype. Because of his vast breadth of knowledge, Jung saw that the image of the Cross shared features with a great number of similar patterns or images in other religious, mythic, and philosophical contexts.
The Mandala-Wisdom of Ancient Cultures
Indeed, in its broadest definition, and it is this broad definition that I am using, the term ‘mandala’ may refer to any religious, philosophical or symbolic arrangement of four objects, elements, quadrants, images, or principles, with vertical and horizontal axes, usually with a fifth object or principle in the centre, either actually represented or implied. The word ‘quintessence’, which has come into our language from medieval thought, expresses the meaning of this fifth element or principle, as the source or combined essence of the other four, or the space in which the others arise.
The Mandala-Wisdom of India and Tibet
Jung, who preferred to make use of Latin or Greek terms for his key concepts, named this recurring four-fold, or five-fold, pattern using the Sanskrit term mandala, perhaps because he found in Tibetan Buddhism, described in detail in the Bardo Thodol (the Tibetan Book of the Dead), a mandala that was symbolically richer than any he had found elsewhere. Although Jung was disappointed with what he saw in the contemporary Buddhist traditions of south-east Asia, we are told by Jung’s long-time colleague and biographer, Marie-Louse Von Franz, that the Bardo Thodol was a source of profound inspiration for many years, and that when he travelled, this would be the book that he took with him along with the Bible. It was as if he found, in the Bardo Thodol, a mandala image that appeared to be closer to the ideal, universal, or archetypal mandala than any other.