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.
By Andy Kahn
The word mandala is of Hindu origin also used in Buddhist practice. In Tibetan Buddhism it has developed into sand mandala pattern. Mandala generally speaking is a term for any geometric symbol that represents the cosmic energy metaphysically or symbolically. Mandala is Sanskrit for circle, polygon, community, connection. Various forms of Mandala design is also used as an aid to meditation and trance induction. Read more
By Beth Ali
A medicine wheel is a Native American sacred circle that represents the Universe and the balance of all creation. Like a mandala, it is a physical symbol of the Circle of Life and all our relationships.
Despite their physical existence, there is a lot of mystery that surrounds the Medicine Wheel as no written record to their purpose has been found. Of the many theories to their use, one is the performance of specific rituals and ceremonies that have been long forgotten, or else handed down within Native American communities and not commonly discussed with non-Native peoples.
Medicine wheels may be symbolized in a home through art, but actual wheels are created on the ground in ritual or ceremony. They are usually constructed out of stones in the shape of a circle with spokes coming out from the center. Each stone and direction in the wheel has its own significance and can be used to help in solving particular problems. Medicine wheels have also been known to be represented on sacred shields, or can be made of hide leather that is woven with sinew and decorated with beads.
The location of a medicine wheel, in both the physical and spiritual realm, is considered sacred because they are built on earth’s energy meridians which connect everything, everywhere concurrently. This place is believed to possess spiritual power that can be accessed when visiting the site. However it is not considered to be a tool to be used for the increasing of one’s personal power. It is rather an ancient portal to ancient knowledge.
Medicine wheels are places where people pray and meditate to help strengthen a feeling of connection to the universe. Ancient people believed that the medicine wheel had great power and aided in creating change and healing. Traditional medicine wheels are still used today by tribal peoples for healing and finding balance in their lives and harmony with the earth. Medicine wheels are also considered symbols of cosmic connections and all creation, our relationship to the sun, representations of Harmony and Oneness, or about ‘walking the Earth with reverence,’ with healthy minds and inner peace.
Medicine wheels are speculated to be usable maps of the major terrestrial forces influencing us from the moment of conception, much as an astrological map positions and describes the celestial forces at play. As you can see, the believed purpose of a medicine wheel is varied, but the core theme seems to be about making sacred space more accessible, visible and therefore real to us.