by Beth Ali
First, we must answer the question: What is a Mandala?
One dictionary definition of a mandala is “Any of various ritualistic geometric designs symbolic of the universe, used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation.” This definition may seem fairly simplistic but it is a good springboard to jump off of with regards to it’s practical use in education. This basic definition gives mention to math, religion, history/social studies and art. An educator could potentially develop an entire cross-curriculum unit with the mandala as the center.
In Rudigar Dahlke’s Mandalas of the World: A Meditating & Painting Guide, he briefly discusses how mandalas can be of benefit in the classroom. Although his discourse is primarily detailing how teachers can use the mandalas to calm, focus and center the student, their use can be much broader, as a central theme to a history, geography, comparative religion unit or as a tool to teach geometry.
We also mustn’t forget the usefulness of the mandala in art and art history courses. The use of the mandala can also span different ages and grades and can be used as a cross-curriculum tool. The study of the mandala can be incorporated from elementary grades up through high school in both public school and in home schools.
Probably the easiest ways to include the mandala in education is in discussion of history, geography and religion of the Far East. One starting point can be the political history and geography of Tibet. Through learning the history of Tibet’s independence in the seventh century and its adoption of many of India’s characteristics the student will learn how mandalas become such an important part of Tibetan life and the philosophy of its monks. The teacher can expand on the history of Tibet by introducing the use of the mandala in religious ceremonies in Buddhism. The Buddhist monks believe each color, line and shape has specific meaning. They believe that the “see” of inner enlightenment can be found from within the mandala.
The mandala can be used as a starting point in the study of comparative religion. The teacher can have the students study the use of the mandala in Native American rituals and even how they are used in modern therapeutic programs to help patients. A comparison of mandalas from Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Christianity would also be useful.
Another excellent use of the mandala would be in geometry courses. The creation of mandalas by the students, using polygons and symmetry with the tools of compass, ruler and protractor, aid in the concrete understanding of some of the basic concepts in geometry. There are many fine lessons for using mandalas in a geometry unit.
In art and art history classes the use of the mandala is useful to teach comparisons of art from different time periods and cultures. They are also invaluable in teaching visual arts in relation to history and cultures.
Beyond this website, where we will be continually adding lesson plan ideas, there are many resources on the web. Check out the following:
SaxArts.com – if the link doesn’t work, just search their lesson plan ideas for mandala related projects, they sometimes have more than one.