A Universal Symbol

The word mandala comes from the Sanskrit word meaning circle. Sacred images based upon or containing circles can be found in cultures as diverse as the Aztecs, Navajos, Australian Tjuringas, Celts, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus, among many others. Jose and Miriam Arguelles, authors of Mandala(1972/1995: Shambhala Press) write of the Aztec Sunstone, an image containing the "cosmogeny, calendar and metaphysical history of the ancient Mexicans."

Eleven feet, two inches in diameter and weighing twenty-four and one-half tons, the Sunstone has as its center the symbol of the present age -- Ollin -- symetrically framing the symbols of the previous four ages... Radiating out from the central symbol are a series of circles representing twenty different day signs which occur repeatedly and are the constants of the Mexican calendar system... The outermost circle contains two celestial fire serpents, symbolizing the meeting of the two polar forces of the cosmos: light and darkness. Their struggle and continual encounter causes everything in the universe to come into being (p.36).

Gothic and Medieval cathedrals, such as the Labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral pictured here, employ circular symbols and architectures.Even the cross, a central Christian icon, has a connection to the mandala form. The Arguelles' point out that "the cross takes much of its significance from the conception of the crossroads...A common image of Christ depicts him as the center of a halo or radiating auric field, His majestic persoal emanations vibrating outward from the body" (p. 40).

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