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The Mandala and other Spiritual Wheels

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The Mandala

Question: What is the significance of the mandala?

Answer: Symbols, like the letters in the alphabet, have meanings. They stand for something. They communicate a message. Familiar symbols may summarize and send messages more quickly and effectively than words. And since visual images tend to bypass the critical scrutiny that words provoke, they serve as tools for transformation in the hands of today’s change agents.

"There is growing excitement among educators about old myths and symbols, oral history, earth festivals, primitive rites of passage and customs, extraordinary abilities documented in cultures less linear than our own," wrote Marilyn Ferguson in her 198 blueprint for change, The Aquarian Conspiracy. She had already explained how tomorrow’s children must learn a new perception of reality. In fact, their minds must be so steeped in this new paradigm that their intuitive response to the old ways would be instant rejection.

"The dictionary defines intuition as ‘quick perception of truth without conscious attention or reasoning," Ferguson explains. Training the intuition to fit the new paradigm is simple. Just switch from the boring old academics -- drill and kill – and introduce fun multicultural experiences in the classroom. Then dialogue in peer group until students agree to the new meanings behind words, stories, myths, and symbols. Make the new meanings more fun and familiar than the home taught words, values, and meanings. To speed the process, students would be surrounded by symbols that send the right message and affirm the new way of thinking.

In this context, the mandala is far more than the old religious symbol first used in Tibetan Buddhist worship. Now it fits into a wide range of circles, wheels, and orbs that symbolize the spiritual interconnectedness needed to inspire global solidarity or oneness. In other words, it represents "systems thinking" and the collective community – the unity and equality of all of creation. Animals, plants, people, fish…all must be seen as one planetary organism working together for the well-being of all its parts.

Corinne McLaughlin, first task-force coordinator for the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, explains this significance her book, Spiritual Politics, which is largely based on messages from spirit guide Djwhal Khul, the "Tibetan Master" channeled by theosophist Alice Bailey. Considering that she also taught her group tactics at the Department of Education, it's no wonder that she and co-author Gordon Davidson link mandalas to the Native American Medicine Wheel:

"Seeing Whole Patterns. . . . It’s time for us to make the next leap in consciousness to wholistic thinking — to seeing whole patterns. In contrast with the prevailing lin-ear paradigm, the New Paradigm sees everything as interconnected and interdependent . . . .Thus it is critical to keep the large picture—the whole system—in mind in order to create any kind of lasting solution and to avoid undue focus on effects, rather than dealing with causes that may be part of another system altogether.

"This is not really "new" thinking. Many traditions of the Ageless Wisdom have taught wholistic thinking for centuries. For example, in the Native American teaching of the medicine wheel, each person begins life starting at a certain direction on the wheel. In the East we learn to see the world through direct illumination and inspiration; in the West we learn to understand the world through introspection; in the North we learn wisdom through dreams and communications with Spirit; and in the South we learn about growth through the heart and innocence. To achieve wholeness, we have to move around the wheel, to see life from other perspectives, in order to understand the interconnection of all the parts. Native Americans resolved conflicts by sitting in council, in a circle of wholeness, where each voice could be heard in turn. Similarly, the Hindus and Buddhists have long used circular mandalas to teach about wholeness.

"Today, because of the environmental crisis, we are beginning to see how all of life is interconnected — how a little bit of toxic dumping in one place causes pollution in the water supplies in another place, endangering the entire chain of life, and down the line, resulting in birth defects or cancer in humans. Wholistic thinking or ecological thinking — seeing how everything affects everything else — is finally beginning to influence other national policies, such as economics, where piecemeal solutions never work, since all sectors of a nation’s economy are interrelated and interdependent with the world economy. The systems view sees the world in terms of relationships and integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller units."

The Aquarian Conspiracy provided educators with a similar blueprint for change. Like a modern Pied Piper, author Marilyn Ferguson inspired teachers across the country to set aside the "narrow" boundaries of the old paradigm, "take risks" and fly into the new paradigm of global solidarity and yin-yang spirituality. Her words, "the far edges of our various fields of knowledge coming together" soon took shape as integrated learning. And her call to "TRANSCEND CULTURE" became multicultural education, a blending of selected elements – such as the wheel or mandala – from the regions of the world:

"Not only are we learning to connect information, but we are connecting with each other as well. We are increasingly aware that no one culture and no period in history has had all the answers. We are gathering our collective wisdom, from the past and from the whole planet.

"We have been the benefactors of our cultural heritage," said psychologist Stanley Krippner, "and the victims of our cultural narrowness." Our concepts of the possible are mired in the heavy materialism, the obsolete mind-body dualism, of our cultural perspective….

"Just as medical innovators have drawn upon insights about health from other cultures—curanderismo shamanism, acupuncture—we are now discovering and adapting traditional teaching systems, tools, and perspectives.

"One such tool is the Indian Medicine Wheel or the Cheyenne Wheel of Knowledge. In contrast to the way we compartmentalize information, the Cheyennes and other American Indian tribes attempt to show the circular, connected nature of reality by mapping knowledge on a wheel…."

There are powerful lessons for us in other cultures. Primitive initiations, for instance, teach the initiate about pain, identity, confrontation. . . . .The Plains Indians of North America teach their children about "the twinness" in man, the existence of conflicting selves that can be made whole. An old chief quoted by Hyemeyohsts Storm in Seven Arrows compared this twinness to the forked branches of a tree. "If One Half tries to split itself from the Other Half, the Tree will become crippled or die. ... Rather than taking this barren way, we must tie together the paradoxes of our Twin Nature with the things of the One Uni-verse.

Mr. Storm was referring to the yin-yang and its synthesis of opposites into one whole. Here the East and West blend together, infusing our Western world with the oriental spirituality and worldview.

Our culture has needed its Cheynne Wheel of Knowledge – a cosmology into which it can order information and experi-ence: our place on the planet; our sequence in the pageant of evolution and history; our relationship to the infinitely small electron and the immense galaxies; our environments for birth, death, work, families. All of these are contexts. We cannot understand ourselves, each other, or nature without seeing whole systems . . . . (pages 306-308)

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