TA 8 (1) pp.
19–30 © Intellect Ltd 2010
Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research Volume 8 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/tear.8.1.19/1
JUNG A HUH Yonsei University
Mandala as telematic design
This study starts from the premise that mandala is a design of the Cosmos and consciousness. mandala is a contracted and systematically designed cosmic space and represents high-level spirituality at the same time. The work of designing mandala is an experience with a sacred world as itself and constitutes a process of self-discipline. In other words, mandala is to ritualize the world of Buddhism beyond a design context and visualize religious experience through a specific object. Therefore, it serves as a medium that gets both producers and audiences to experience the sacred world. In this way, mandala is present as an “experiencing design” and a “behaving medium.” This study aims to identify the archetype of empirical and synthetic design by analyzing mandala as an integrated icon for which the Cosmos and human beings or consciousness and matter meet each other. Spatial structuralization is considered most important in the icon of mandala. The space in mandala is the place where consciousness joins reality, which represents the state of enlightenment. Many multi-dimensional Buddhas coexist in the space, and they are arranged in harmony and in order. This visual structure allows mandala to play the role of interactive medium. In the iconic shapes of mandala symbolizing a sacred world, major elements include a circle, square, semicircle, triangle and the numbers of 8 and 4. The respective shapes are matched to white, yellow, red and black, and the five different senses are connected to one another. The five senses are symbolic of earth, water,
mandala mapping space structure pattern communication
Jung A Huh
fire, wind and void which constitute the universe, and again they remain connected to five different parts of the body of a disciplinant drawing mandala: liver, kidney, spleen, lungs and heart. Those organs are associated with five Buddhas and in turn connected through the boundless space of the universe. By analyzing such a composite structure of mandala, this study tries to appreciate its in-depth meaning as an integrated design.
1. MANDALA AS SPIRITUAL MAPPING
As an icon created by India’s tantrism (esoteric Buddhism) between the fourth century and the early seventh century, mandala has had a strong influence on religion, philosophy, iconography and literature. Found in many countries of East Asia, mandalas show a slight difference depending on the country where they are made. In traditional Indian tantrism, mandalas are made of sand and scattered over a river after completion. In China, Japan and Korea, on the other hand, mandala icons are created as paintings and used as an aid to worship. Mandala meditation entails a Buddhist way of discipline different from Zen meditation. Zen meditation does not use linguistic visual expressions, while the mandala expresses the experience of enlightenment through symbolic paintings. Mandala meditation is a way to recognize truth through visual or auditory means such as pictures or sacred words. A mandala envisions religious enlightenment through images and engages in ‘telematic’ communication. It is an imaginary design of the religious world. Visual images in the mandala reflect more than the external perception of the icon and are connected to the inner space in an observer’s mind. Mentally, a human being (microcosm) is guided to ‘enter’ the mandala’s space and to ‘advance’ towards its centre. The purpose of the mandala’s visual design is to encourage observers to use their imagination to communicate with the mandala space, by creating a path between a holy world and observers. This communication process awakens the participants to their own Buddha nature through visual scripture. This paper is based on the premise that the mandala is a design of the cosmos and consciousness. It is designed to express a high level of spirituality as a systematic design of scaled-down cosmic space. The work of designing a mandala is an experience with a holy world and a process of self-discipline. The mandala is more than a topographic design and represents Buddhist ritualization and, at the same time, the visualization of religious experience. Mandalas are always based on religious experience, and the experience fosters communication with observers through the mandala design; thus, a mandala can be said to be an ‘experiencing design’ or ‘behaving medium’. The mandala is a design through which the universe and human beings – and consciousness and matter – interconnect. Consequently, the mandala serves as a medium that enables both its practitioners and its observers to experience a sacred world. In addition, it is a symbolic road map that delivers and communicates enlightenment. Such a design concept is also reflected in the origin of the word mandala, which derives from ‘manda’, meaning centre or essence, and ‘la’, meaning container or possessor. Thus, a mandala represents a way to reach the centre, or enlightenment. Reaching or gaining enlightenment is an objective common to both practitioners and observers.
Mandala as telematic design
2. SYMBOLIC PATTERNS IN MANDALA DESIGN
• Spatial structure The most important element in a mandala icon is spatial structuralization. The mandala arranges Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in a harmonious and orderly pattern in sacred space and expresses the truth of the universe through this spatial arrangement.1 The space of the mandala suggests a specific place where Buddhas reside and in which enlightenment is recognized, and the mandalic space has several characteristics. First, the space features a multi-dimensional structure. The Padmagarbhalokadha tu Map (Buddhism’s ultimate world symbolized by Vairocan) (see Figures 2 and 3) made in the Chosun Dynasty (eighteenth century) shows a Buddhist worldview. This map is a spatial structural plan for various states of enlightenment (or Buddhahood) and for Buddhas residing in the space. The painting displays a vertical arrangement of multi-dimensional spaces in its lower section, and its upper section shows a large number of
1. A mandala is a guide map for enlightenment experienced by practitioners. Susan M. Walcott compared the mind navigation of the mandala with the experience of guruguided navigation as ‘the three-dimensional computer-generated projection of a fly-through terrain useful for training pilots’ (Walcott, S. M. (2006), ‘Mapping from a Different Direction: Mandala as Sacred Spatial Visualization’, Journal of Cultural Geography, Spring/ Summer, p. 79).
Figure 1: The most representative five-coloured mandala, composed of circles and squares.
Jung A Huh
Figure 2: The Padmagarbhalokadhatu map, court-esy of private owner, Daejeoun, South Korea.
Mandala as telematic design
Figure 3: The spatial map of the Buddhist Ultimate World, courtesy of Temple Tongdo, South Korea.
circles placed around a circle in the middle. The circles are surrounded by outer circles, and many worlds are surrounded by other worlds where many different shapes of Buddhas are described visually. Sumeru Parvata (see Figure 4) is a mental pilgrimage that shows how a single world is formed. It represents a spatially imaginative mountain, which is raised between the Buddhist heaven and the sattva (human beings). There are eight seas and eight mountains that surround the Sumeru Parvata in the centre. Above the Sumeru Parvata are the heavens where Buddhas reside, and below is the mundane world in which the sattva resides. In the Padmagarbhalokadhatu, there are innumerable single worlds and a great number of Buddhas that exist in these worlds and are viewed as incarnations of Vairocana. Vairocana refers to the root of existence, namely the nature of Buddha, and the Padmagarbhalokadhatu indicates that every world comes from the nature of Buddha. As stated above, innumerable multi-dimensional worlds co-exist in a mandalic space, and boundaries overlap between the inside and outside of each space. Tibetan mandala painting (see Figure 5) illustrates the multi-dimensionality of time, including the future and past and the heavenly world, by expressing the future Buddha Amitabha in the middle, Jataka (meaning past life) in the lower part, and the heavenly world in the upper part. The multi-dimensionality of mandalic space can also be found in the coexistence of the sacred and the profane in addition to space and time. In the mandalic space, the sacred is not viewed differently from the secular, and
Jung A Huh
2. Yun-sik, Hong (1992), Mandala, Daewonsa Publishing Co. Ltd, Seoul, South Korea. p. 6.
Figure 4: Map of Sumeru Parvata representing a spatially imaginative mountain, which is raised between the Buddhist heaven and the sattva (human beings).
the communication between the two worlds is considered important. The arrangement of many Buddhas in the space allows living things to enter it. Access is given not only to Gautama (Buddha) but human beings as well, so as to ensure the possibility of their attaining Buddhahood.2 The mandalic space is an interactive space open to human beings, and is not exclusive.
Mandala as telematic design
Figure 5: A Tibetan Mandala from the seventeenth century, courtesy of a Korean owner in San Francisco.
Jung A Huh
• Icons, numbers and colours Although slightly variant depending on each culture, most mandalas have a structure in which circles and squares overlap. There is a square drawn in a circle and within the circle another square. This spatial structure evolves from the centre to the whole and again from the whole to the centre. The centre and totality are two important issues in the spatial design of mandalas. Each circle is a field of total energy and each square indicates an aspect into which the whole develops. The mandala design with a square in a circle or with a circle in a square is a set of aggregation of and regression from ones and fours. The centre shared by circles and squares is the source of everything and serves to control the whole. Order is established by repeating the process by which a 1 develops into a 4 and again converges into a 1 (a 5). The symbols and patterns of mandala icons are based on a connection and interaction between human beings and the universe. Circles, as one of the mandala’s most basic figures, exist not only in Buddhism, but are also are found in ancient cultures and throughout the history of nature and creation. They are ‘universal archetypes’ as defined by Carl G. Jung. Similar traces, including concentric circles drawn on rocks in ancient times, are found in Stonehenge in England and Navajo Indian sand paintings. From ancient times, the world has been envisaged as circular. Other similar cases of circular shape include the world that Atlas of Greek mythology held on his shoulders and the TO Map (Figure 6), which shows the Christian
Figure 6: As the most representative map of the Medieval Ages, the TO Map expresses the Christian worldview.
Mandala as telematic design
worldview of medieval Europe. The circle is a universal pattern symbolic of the universe and a field in which the macrocosm and the microcosm (human beings) interact. The simple universal patterns such as circles or squares are a key that human beings use to envision the universe. In this sense, Jung used the term ‘active imagination’ to describe the painting of a mandala. From this experience, he felt that the circles of the mandala are universal archetypes that have the effect of treatment. On the other hand, he recognized the universal archetype as a ‘magic circle’ that makes a connection between consciousness and unconsciousness and between consciousness and reality. In addition to geometric figures, numbers also have an important significance in mandalas. The mandala’s basic figures that take turns between circles and squares symbolize the order in which a one develops into a 4 and then converges into a 1 (which corresponds to the number 5). Squares, one of the mandala’s two most basic figures, correspond to the number 4. This number 4 has a very important meaning. In the West, the number 2 represented antagonistic altruism by separating 1 from 1, while the East tended to create and use the new number 4 by adding 2 to the separative number 2. The 4 plays an important part in the mandala design, as a number symbolic of the stable state of a being. This number is also associated with alchemic imagination. In alchemy the universe is thought to consist of four elements, and the 4 in the mandala represents the four elements that constitute the universe and beings. The numbers 1, 4 and 8 are symbols of circles, squares and the eight-petaled lotus, respectively. In addition, these numbers symbolize the principal Buddha representing all other Buddhas, four Buddhas sharing the attributes, and four Bodhisattavas assisting the principal Buddha, respectively. This spatial structure of mandalas was applied to urban design and architecture. In the Shilla Kingdom (seventh – to tenth century), during which Buddhism was prevalent, the kingdom’s capital, Gyeongju, adopted the mandalic spatial structure.3 The Seokguram grotto shrine is a typical mandalic structure that represents the Buddhism of Shilla. The grotto shrine’s entrance is rhombus shaped, and the space where the principal image of Shakyamuni Buddha is seated takes a circular form and is surrounded by octagonal stones (see Figure 7). This mandalic design of architectural space reflects a spiritual support for unifying the nation. Beyond a simple architectural design, the mandala worked as an important factor that brought about changes in politics, society and culture by influencing the consciousness of people who shared the structure.4 The coloration in mandalas is a very important element. Typically, mandalas use five colours: yellow, black, red, white and blue, which have different meanings and symbols. They are delivered not only visually, but also by engaging all other senses, including hearing, touch, taste and smell. In other words, the five colours correspond to the five senses, and they constitute significant pathways through which the body and the universe are connected. In esoteric Buddhism, the sense of vision connects with the senses of hearing, touch, taste and smell. The universe is composed of the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind and void, and the five elements correspond to the five colours. The five colours are again associated with hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling and thus come to mean more than the physical colours themselves. They are connected to the five senses and to the five organs: liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys.
3. Traditionally, Asian countries imitated the world of deities in the design of their towns. Tibet and China applied a deity’s residence or sacred world to the spatial design of urban areas. 4. Yun-Sik, Hong (1992), Mandala, Daewonsa Publishing Co. Ltd, Seoul, South Korea. p. 127.
Jung A Huh
Figure 7: Seokguram grotto shrine. Buddhist mandalas indicate that experience through the five senses leads to the awareness of enlightenment in the sacred world. Experiencing the five colours can be compared to obtaining five pieces of knowledge. A journey through the sense of sight helps connect the body to the universe. In mandalas, the human being is thought of as a unified body of the microcosm. Seeing is not just seeing, but engaging in telematic communication with the
Mandala as telematic design
universe. Our body consists of the same elements as those that constitute the universe. These elements are very important in setting a corresponding relationship between the universe and human beings. In the mandalic space, one communicates with the universe through the five senses and attains enlightenment to become the five Buddhas. A large number of Buddhas converge into the five Buddhas. The number 5 symbolizes the whole coming from one. In the same way the body can be symbolized by five limbs, the entire Buddhist world can be represented by the five Buddhas. As a result, the five colours, five organs, and five Buddhas are compatible with one another. As the colours, the universe, the body, and knowledge converge into a single one, ‘my body becomes the body of Mandala’.
5. Yong-hwan, Kim (1989), A Study of the Structural Relationship between the Visual Form of Mandala and the Significance of Spirituality: Focused On An Analysis of Mandala Rituals, Seoul: Seoul National University Department of Religious Studies, pp. 234–237. 6. Hyesun, Lee. “Close up: Mandala, A Ray of Truth” Meesool Saegae October 1999 Vol. 179, pp. 33–41.
3. MANDALA AS ‘EXPERIENCING DESIGN’ AND ‘BEHAVING MEDIA’
The visualization of a mandala goes beyond its representation. The aim of painting a mandala is to restore the experience with the world of Buddha, and the work itself is the process of self-discipline.5 Before producing a mandala, lamas offer prayers and perform a ceremony. Traditional mandalas of Indian tantrism are completed while five lamas offer prayers and chant sacred mantras for a week. The ultimate meaning of mandala design can be found in the last ritual of Tibet’s traditional mandala production process. In 7 days, the five Buddhist priests complete a mandala as a process of self-discipline. Interesting is the last part of the mandala ceremony. The last ritual is to sweep through the completed sand mandala and scatter it over a river. (Figures 8, 9 and 10 show the scenes of making a mandala, breaking it, and letting it out into the river, respectively.) In fact, only when the mandala is swept apart is it complete. Even if the mandala is not a sand mandala but is left as a painting, the ceremony of letting out to the river has the same importance. The procedure of scattering the completed mandala over a river suggests a relationship between matter and consciousness in Buddhism. This is to say that the work of designing a mandala is more important in itself than the actual designed mandala. In other words, the process and experience of making the mandala are important, but the mandala itself should never be the goal. Although one could reach enlightenment through a material image, the image is not enlightenment. The image would provide a pathway through which one can access the world of Buddha, but it is not desirable to impose a meaning on the pathway itself. The pathway is never Buddha, though it is impossible to enter the
Images courtesy of art magazine Meesool Saegae.
Jung A Huh
world of Buddha without the pathway. The significance of design or creation is to mediate between matter and consciousness. A mandala embodies a nonmaterial communication system that today’s digital technologies are seeking beyond the dimension of materialism.
Huh, J. A. (2010), ‘Mandala as telematic design’, Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research 8: 1, pp. 19–30, doi: 10.1386/tear.8.1.19/1
Jung A Huh is a professor at the Institute of Media Arts at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. She is also the supervising manager for the Humanities Korea Project “Imagination and Technology” and organized the International Media Art Exhibition (2004) as executive producer. She is a consultant for the “Asian Culture Hub City Project” in the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism as well as for the “Transdisciplinary Robot Forum” in the Ministry of Knowledge Economy. Contact: Institute of Media Arts, Yonsei University #626, College of Liberal Arts, 134 Shinchon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul 120–749, Republic of Korea. Tel: +82-2-2123-7579 Mob: +82-10-4747-5633 E-mail: email@example.com
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