Let’s take some time to explore the deeper meaning behind some of the most common shapes and designs present in your drawings and mandalas. It is truly fascinating!
Circles are the most prominent shapes in many designs. Unlike other pointed shapes, circles lack edges. There is no definitive start or end to the shape, making it a perfect representation of infinity and eternity. It is considered a feminine shape, and is typically associated with feelings of peace and harmony. Designs contained within a circle are considered to be protected and unified.
While circles are feminine shapes, squares are their masculine counterparts. The lines and points in a square represent rationality and defined borders. A square will outline a very specific border or territory and protect against outside forces. Many traditional mandalas will outline the drawing’s borders using one, large, outermost square or rectangle.
Triangles are also pointed shapes, much like squares. Think of a triangle as the head of an arrow, pointing in a specific direction. It can be interpreted as an aggressive shape, pointing out dangers and disturbing the peace. However, triangles can also represent more holy symbols, such as the holy trinity.
A triangle’s orientation can symbolize different values and ideas as well. A triangle pointing upwards represents the aspiration to rise above physical limitations and challenges. A downwards facing triangle can denote a fixation with earthly energy in the material sphere, as opposed to the divine sphere.
The center of every single mandala is a single dot. Consider the idea that viewing a mandala is a spiritual journey; the central dot represents a point on a map that the traveler is attempting to reach. Mandalas are considered to contain perfect universes, which makes the origin point the center of all spiritual energy in that universe.
Points that are not situated in the center of a mandala can represent completely different ideas. What that representation is, however, is completely up to the artist. If your mandala represents a community, then the additional dots might symbolize family members and friends in your community. They could also denote minor goals that must be achieved on the path to one’s ultimate goal.
Spirals and Curves
These shapes are commonly considered to be the joining of multiple circles. A spiral is a continuation of spiritual energy. In the context of the Unalome, a spiral is indicative of one’s journey towards enlightenment. It’s an adventure that one embarks on in order to find out who they truly are and what they value most. A flattening of this curve can represent the end of this journey as the soul advances towards enlightenment.
Elements of Nature
Animals are universal symbols that can reflect a wide range of ideas and values. These animalistic symbols aren’t exclusive to mandala design either. You might recognize some of these symbols from childhood tales and fables.
These creatures most commonly represent freedom, due to their ability to fly and thus detach themselves from the world. Different types of birds can symbolize different values as well. For example, a dove is a symbol of peace and tranquility while a raven is a harbinger of doom, war and mysticism.
Don’t be so quick to assume that this animal is an evil or demonic symbol. Serpents can also represent healing and immortality, due to their ability to shed their skin and start fresh.
Butterflies are classic symbols of transformation and metamorphosis. However, these creatures have also come to represent the life cycle: birth, death and resurrection. A caterpillar will “die” by encasing itself in a cocoon only to emerge, reborn, as a majestic butterfly.
Like animals, different types of plants and flowers also represent different values.
Overall, flowers symbolize renewal, beauty and perseverance. Different types of flowers represent their own values as well. The most sacred flower in Buddhist teachings, the lotus flower, represents enlightenment and the purity of the soul.
Typically, a tree in a mandala is a reference to the Tree of Life. It’s a symbol of strength, life and energy. The Tree of Life itself has been said to be a map of creation, with branches that spread out in all sorts of different directions.
Leaves in a mandala are typically indicative of a specific type of leaf, called the Buddhi Leaf. It’s a leaf that falls from the tree that Siddhartha Gautama sat underneath while he meditated on his path to enlightenment. It’s a symbol of diligence and patience.
Lastly, drawings and mandalas can also incorporate cosmic elements, such as stars, moons and suns. While these most often have divine, spiritual connotations, they can come to represent different ideals as well.
A star in a mandala can represent a general star in the sky, or a more specific religious/spiritual symbol. In general, this shape serves as a reminder to remain true to your spiritual self. It can also serve as a guiding point, like the North Star helped direct travelers.
Much like our sun is the source of light and energy for Earth, a sun in a mandala is representative of positive energy, hope and happiness. Yellow, a color that is commonly associated with the sun, is also symbolic of laughter and joy. The two go hand in hand.
The moon is a feminine symbol that is indicative of balance and change. The different phases of the moon – crescent moon, full moon, new moon — can also symbolize the life cycle of birth, life and death, respectively.