Unit III.  Balance


1.  Wholeness
2.  Perfection
3.  Descent
4.  Integration & Transcendence
5.  Transformation
6.  Mandala
7.  Equanimity
8.  Gratitude
9.  The Unitive Life

Materials needed: Journal, drawing supplies

Books needed:

Mandala: Journey to the center
The sacred tree
The path to no-self


Medicine Wheel
Mandala Ritual
The Unitive Life, I & II
The Unitive Live, III
The Unitive Life, IV

Did you ever walk a fence rail?  Or perhaps it was a beam in your gym in school.  How do you feel standing at the edge of a precipice?  Is that comfortable for you or are you uneasy or afraid?  All of these examples involve physical balance and are, no doubt, familiar to you.  But there are other arenas of balance.  

Are you overworked and overstimulated?  Do you feel like the biggest part of your life is marking time until the bell rings or school is out or it is 5 o’clock and time to quit for the day?  When do you play and does play rest you, or does it add to the stress of an already overdone life style?  Do you get enough love?  Do you get enough sleep?  Do you eat right?  How about exercise?

On yet another level, are you in touch with your soul?   Do you know where you are on your spiritual journey?  Do you meditate every day?  What do your dreams tell you about your spiritual development?  Are you stuck, or do you have a sense of progress even if it is not linear?  Do you know what you are looking for?  Do you know what is missing in your life?  Where to find it?  Where to look for it?  Are you in touch with your inner male and female archetypes?  How do they interact?  


Balance in all these things depends upon a sense of wholeness.  This is what the circle in the Ajna chakra represents, the full moon that is clear and pure, able to reflect rays of light faultlessly.  Well. . . almost faultlessly as we are still in a body and human.  If there was no work left to do, we would not be here.  Another symbol for wholeness is the square, and we met that in the first chakra.  The square may be represented by a yantra that is a visual focus for meditation.  In both cases, circle and square, there is a point that is the center.  The center represents the Source of all being and energy before it has manifested.  And the center holds everything else together as we shall see later in this unit.


We have seen how involution or creation demands that original existence be split into parts, and that these parts interact in numerous ways to form the universe and all the creatures in it.  At the first level, we have the manifest and unmanifest represented by gods and goddesses still in a bisexual form, cf. sadasiva who is half male and half female [picture in Johari, p. 76].  Or we have Yab/Yum in a sexual embrace.  This is the principle of androgyny or the balance between male and female characteristics.  In some traditions, we have the concept of sacred marriage which is the inner union of the soul with the Divine One.  The soul is often referred to as a female and God as a male in this marriage.  The sexual references enable everyone to imagine the underlying idea.  Buddha nature implies transcendence of the emptiness/form division.  The Jivan-mukta in Yoga is freed of polarities in this life, so is considered to be an advanced spiritual being.


To return to the Source  requires reversal of the involution process or a return to wholeness.  To be whole is to be without divisions, so the opposites must be transcended.  Often this is accomplished by a process of initiation.  As I write this, I have just returned from an Easter weekend workshop in which we examined the symbolism of the betrayal of Jesus, his vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane, crucifixion, death and resurrection.  This motif of death, descent and rebirth is the story of initiation.  Something is lost or sacrificed in order to rise to a higher level of beingness.  In the process, missing pieces of the individual are retrieved in order to achieve wholeness.  Most of the hero myths deal with this theme.  So does the myth of Inanna (Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983) which is about a female descending and the story of the Maiden King (Bly & Woodman, 1998) that is a story of a male searching for lost pieces of his Self.  Jung calls the return to wholeness “individuation” because its result is a rediscovery of the Higher Self in which all parts of the smaller self are united.  


In the annunciation, John tells us the Word was made flesh (John 1:14).  This means embodiment of the Divine One. Syzygy, according to Spitze (1981), means a reunion of two without loss of identity.  It means a yoke or a pair. It also means both a conjunction or joining and opposition thus implying the union of opposites.  To be whole, then, is to have all your parts together and united in a balanced equilibrium.  On a grand scale, we are talking about the unity of all existence with the Creator.  This is not the Ultimate Reality which has no divisions, but is the first step out of that pool of infinite energy.  There is still a two-ness or multiplicity in wholeness.  This is reflected in the two petals of the sixth chakra.

The Center and Energy  Flow

Arguelles (1985) says that, “To be integrated, to be made whole, means to be able to maintain contact with one’s center” (p. 20).  The center is the source through which form-creating energy flows.  So we are called to deal with life’s inevitable changes by constantly touching base with our Center.  In doing so, we recharge our batteries with new, fresh energy.  This movement is bi-directional: we move into the center to refresh and be nurtured, and then outward once again to deal with life’s challenges.  Bi-polarity enables movement because of the principles of electromagnetism.  Positive and negative energies attract each other and similar valences repel.  You can see how the great opposites in mythology explain this fact of life.  Arguelles (1985) tells us that symbols “. . are created through a condensation and focalization of energies and, by a reciprocal process, can release those energies” (p. 53).  So you can recognize the potential for a self-conscious integration process.  We will be practicing that later on.


As you might expect, a sense of wholeness is healing.  Anyone who wishes to take the time to study his/her body and discover what nutrients its really needs and then  supply them, can achieve a state of perfect health.  And, because the body and mind are inextricably linked, mental health must be attended to as well as spiritual needs.  Such a  practice can take up to seven years as that is how long it takes to turn over all the cells in the body.  So doing this research takes commitment, patience and experimentation.  The fact that I am often perceived to be 15 years younger than I actually am is testimony to the efficacy of this idea.  It is an ongoing process, but I feel good . . . most days.


In Ajna chakra, the serpent closes the circle.  This is both literal and metaphoric. So keep in mind that what follows applies specifically to the energetic realm of the individual but, by extension and metaphor, to the rest of natural life.   The Ida and Pingala nadiis come together and end in the nose and, because one has negative and the other has positive valence, the polarities they represent are neutralized and come into balance.  There is no longer any karma, nor maya to produce it.  The two halves of the brain are balanced through the corpus callosum as are intellect and intuition. As a result, new worlds of psychological and spiritual reality open up that were hitherto unknown.  Time and space lose their rigidity becoming more relative to ongoing reality.  Characteristics of the opposite gender are incorporated into the psyche to achieve a more androgynous personality. Yab, the masculine, represents life and eternity; Yum, the feminine, represents the womb and time.  Taken together, they symbolize a realized person, sacred union of the timeless and the temporal within.  On a grand scale, we can see this unification process occurring in our patriarchial culture as the feminine is awarded more recognition and opportunity for expression.


The Apostle’s creed says that Jesus was “crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven. . . “

This is an initiation rite the form of which dates back into the mists of the past, to Egyptian high culture with Osiris.  And further back than that, two thousand years before the Bible, we find  Inanna, the Queen of Heaven, a Sumerian goddess of Love who made the descent into the underworld giving up all she had in order to be reborn.  Another form of this is  the concept of  dismemberment in shamanism.  Also Native Americans routinely use their sweat lodges to go within, while  vision quests with their isolation and fasting may also result in experiences of integration with the Higher Powers.

Why would someone give up their very life in order to be reborn?  Thisis an especially cogent question since most of us have no assurance that we would be able to return.  Surely this is the ultimate test of trust and/or faith.  But let us see what we can make of it on a metaphoric level.

The underworld (a word which is less fraught with negative innuendoes than “hell”) can be seen as representative of all that is hidden, dark, secret, unknown or unconscious.  We fear the unknown because it cannot be controlled in the usual manner.  This begins with the ego repressing all that it cannot control and then maintaining the repression against almost impossible odds sometimes.  We have already seen how this is accomplished.  But the enigma goes even further than that.  We, as a culture, repress our awareness of the deep feminine, the void or abyss, the chthonic mysteries.  And, because of that, the valuable energies of these archetypes are lost to us.  Likewise, we repress those aspects of our souls that are not well received when we are growing up.  Consequently, we feel a deep sense of loss that Almaas calls the “hole.”  Something is missing, and I am not whole.

The goal of the descent into the underworld or unconscious is to retrieve these lost parts of our souls that are essential to an experience of wholeness.  We must make all parts of ourselves conscious at this stage of the journey.  This is a major part of the transformation process.  To access the unconscious takes trust, courage and persistence.  It is advisable to have a guide or therapist to assist because it is an awesome terrain not all of which is strictly personal.  In fact, most of it is Dynamic Ground.  We must learn how to make this descent either through dreams or through some sort of hypnotic or visualization technique.  It can take a lot of trial and error if you are doing it on your own and may be dangerous if your psycho-logical balance is not well grounded.  So it is advisable to find a knowledgeable guide before experimenting.  Both Freud and Jung were seminal thinkers in this domain.  They represent western psychology’s basic knowledge of the process.

Some of the issues that may arise during the descent have to do with the obstacles ego has piled up as a defense.  Some of these are denial, repression, projection and neurotic symptom formation.  The myths tell us of the trials the hero must suffer en route to the goal, and these can give us some indication of the resistances, fears and challenges we may encounter on the way.  Guardians of the gate(s) are forms of ego and mind that are threatened by the descent.  Fearsome monsters represent the awesome power of the Dynamic Ground and its ability to engulf the ego, mind and very identity of the seeker.  In St. John of the Cross’ (Peers, 1959) book, Dark Night of the Soul, we find that there is a process of retrieval that goes on unconsciously in order to protect the individual’s soul from harm.  God is working in the dark, i.e., the unconscious,  to reform the psyche into His own image.

At this point, we must surrender to the process itself, and that is a huge challenge for those of us who are used to being able to control what happens to us in our lives.  Or we think we do.  The issue can easily become one of trust.  Do I trust the unseen powers enough to let go of my fierce hold on what I perceive as reality?  We may have to surrender without understanding the process.  Do we trust God?  If there is no God in your philosophy, how do you focus your surrender?  What is it surrender to?  Our life experience has been created out of interactions with a sensory environment using our minds to organize what happens into some coherent perception of what life is all about.  Now we are being called upon to let go of all that and take a leap of faith that may destroy our very identity as a person or as a soul.  It is here, I think, that we most need assistance from those who have gone before and who have more experience with the journey.  It is said that, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  So we should be on the alert for such a manifestation.  It may not come in the form we have envisioned, so be careful before you reject an offer of help or a serendipitous appearance of a stranger in your life.  And it may not be a stranger.  You will know this person because s/he sees you, sees your soul in a very intimate way.  This will be an intuitive perception on your part, a perception that is newly forming at this chakra level.

How should we relate to this new part of the journey?  It is important to keep in mind that we need both poles in order to balance.  That means we need to re-examine all the aspects of ourselves that we have judged to be inadequate or bad in some way.  In each of them, look for the compensating energy that was misconstrued when it was rejected.  For example, women are often socialized to be passive and not proactive in achieving their goals in life.  So, for such women, independence may be very threatening, and they may not know how to activate it.  They may feel that no one, especially men, will like them or pay attention to them if they initiate movement to achieve what they want in a direct manner.  Or they may be unable to express anger because that is typically associated with the male role.  A creative solution is called for here.  What is it in independence that is needed to balance out the habitual dependency?  How can it be assimilated into one’s life without destroying crucial relationships?  Is it possible to be assertive without violence?  What is the middle way between the opposite poles of the dilemma?  

It is important not to overbalance and go to the other extreme.  This can result in zealotry or the kind of madness we saw in Hitler.  Nor is it advisable to “act out” our repressions.  As adults, we are responsible to consider the effects of what we do and say upon the lives of others.  So, again, if you find yourself confused or feeling incompetent, get help.  Transpersonal therapists are everywhere now and have the training to help you integrate your Higher Self.  Furthermore, keep in mind that balance is dynamic and must be maintained.  It is not as if you can achieve it once and for all and then go on to other things.  It is a delicate process that is always in motion, changing and evolving into something else that, at the same time, is always You.

Integration and Transcendence

Another way to achieve wholeness is through transcendence.  This is analogous to ascent as opposed to descent.  In order to integrate opposites, we can go up to the next level of generality in the hierarchy.  This assumes a hierarchy, of course, but we are talking here about how we might conceptualize the journey in our minds.  And minds are wired for hierarchy.  Once we understand how something works, we can then more easily open ourselves to an experience of it.  So imagine a pyramid of ideas about how things work.  At the bottom and all intermediate levels we have all the concepts you’ve ever encountered in your life.  Choose just the ones that are important to you to think about.  Decide what would be at the top – something that encompasses every single one of those below it.  Then pick a polarity that is problematic for you.  Ask yourself what idea or concept would include both of them.  It is going to be more abstract.  For example, male and female are two polarities that are both part of procreation.  And both are necessary to it.  Sex and aggression are both part of survival drives.  Do you see where this is going?  Try it yourself.

Exercise: Transcendence

Make a list of the polarities in your life you would like to work on.  Then draw a hierarchical diagram of them.  Try to expand your diagram to several levels in order to discover what is on top at the highest level.  Make note of the problems you run into.  You may have to leave it for a day or so to give your inner process time to sort it out; then come back to it.  If you find this exercise profitable, you may want to share it with your friends.

You may have noticed that it helps to have a container when working with opposites.  Traditionally, this has been the role of the feminine, most likely due to women’s role as child bearer and nurturer.  Give some  thought to Love as a container.  How in your life does love hold you, comfort you, support, nurture, and encourage you in dealing with the conflicts of opposites and the valences you are called upon to resolve?  Love can help transmute one polarity into another.  Probably because we can only surrender when we feel secure, and love makes us feel safe.


Let us turn now and look at the problem of integration from a psychological perspective.  Here our content matter is the parts of our personalities.  The literature on this subject is vast, and I will spare you the details again.  However, there is a thread of our subject here that needs attention.  Part of growing up, as we have seen, is the development of personality, ego and intellect.  As those differentiate out of the undivided beingness of infancy, we have another fractionation process going on.  So the net result, usually, is the primacy of an ego who serves as the chairman of the board to use Swami Radha’s wry analogy.  Then there are a host of personality aspects who come to the fore on myriad and various occasions.  In addition, there is the mighty intellect that has risen to such heights of power in our culture.  All of these parts of oneself need to be integrated into the Higher Self.  In other words, the locus of control  passes from the ego to the Higher Self.  This is a matter of surrender to a higher power and you can expect to meet stiff resistance from the ego.  Here is where spiritual practices are of great help.

Another place where a split has occurred is between the body and mind.  This is a serious problem in the west where the mind (read intellect) has acquired such power.  We tend to look upon our bodies as simply the carrier of our mental and psychological life rather than as an equal partner.  If you do not believe this, watch your reaction the next time you are traveling in an airplane through a lot of turbulence.  Even though you can reason with yourself that you are in no danger, the body reacts to its own perceptions of what is going on.  We now know that the body’s cells are all conscious and that the heart controls all of the body’s systems.  So it seems reasonable to assume that there is such a thing as a bodymind or even a body consciousness.  If so, these entities need to be connected to the intellect and intuition.  In fact, the bodymind might be more closely related to the intuition than to the intellect.  Karen Wegela (2003) says that mindfulness practice is one way to develop awareness of the body, and that awareness of the changing perceptions and sensations of the body will help to bring body and mind together.

We have already spoken of the need to retrieve lost aspects of the soul.  So now the task becomes one of pulling it all together and uniting it with Spirit.  Probably one of the best systems for achieving this is the Eight Rungs of Yoga because it addresses all the levels we have been examining.  Beyond Spirit, who we can think of as the Christ consciousness or unconditional Love, is the only Being referred to in Sufism as the Beloved.  The Beloved is the first Cause in involution, the Creator  and caretaker of all that is in form.  Beyond that is the Ultimate or Absolute Source, the Origin.  Everything eventually comes back home to the Absolute.


“Consciousness is the power of an organism to order, integrate and transform itself. . . An organism is an integrated, on-going, self-contained set of relationships, whether a cell, an individual, a community, or a solar system” (Arguelles, 1985, p. 53)

As this quotation implies, transformation means change.  In our context, change usually means a change to a higher level of development.  There are an infinite number of theories about how this might take place.  Piaget (1952) says development occurs in a spiral pattern vacillating back and forth between periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium with most of the change taking place during the disequilibrium phase.  This pattern could be used to explain evolution in the sense of returning to Spirit as Jill Purce (1974) noted in The Mystic Spiral.

Ken Wilber’s (1983) theory is more complex.  He explains that as each stage is transcended, it goes beyond and yet still incorporates all that has gone before it.  
For example, as we grow up we become more complicated individuals but we still recognize ourselves as the same person.  As well, we take our memories with us, at least until old age begins to set in.  The associated changes can take many forms: of  more differentiation, of sorting out of what is valuable to keep and what needs to be discarded, of new learning that has to be integrated and assimilated  to what is already there, and of new applications to one’s life situation.  Jung’s concept of individuation fits a transformational model as does the idea of working toward higher levels of consciousness.  Arguelles (1985) refers to The Great Work which is transmutation of the soul.  Here we meet some of the principles of alchemy in which baser metals are changed into gold.  No doubt, you will recognize the symbolism in this reference.

In many systems, change is conceptualized as the result of alternating bipolar rhythms.  Arguelles (1985) says energy in the system is able to maintain itself through transformation.  The auric field is a field of consciousness.  “Therefore, when the Chakras are consciously activated the individual becomes the center of a dynamic, on-going, self-integrated Mandala” (p. 75).  You will remember that chakras are systems of bio-psychic resonators located at the intersections of the Ida and Pingala nadiis.  Knowing that these nadiis are bipolar and that bipolarity can result in electromagnetic currents, we can see how they would begin to spin which, in turn, channels the energy throughout the system.  It is rather like the tornadoes that often are generated in the collision of high and low pressure weather systems.  Two currents going in opposite directions can create a spin.

Another form of change is transmutation, a process that changes one thing into another.  The Great Work of the soul changes it from a fractionated, individual soul into the Christ.  This is rather like housecleaning.  All the dross, discordance, and missing pieces are restored, so that the soul becomes like a shining mirror able to reflect Divine Light into every corner of the world.  When this happens, you can literally see light emanating from inside the person.  The Light Body becomes charged with high frequency energy and shines like the sun.

Tools for transformation

Cunningham (2002) offers the mandala as a tool for transformation for those willing to explore deeper aspects of the Self.  It requires a willingness to surrender to our vulnerability and engage in interaction with unknown parts of ourselves.  The mandala can lead us into and out of the unconscious, and it provides both a guide and an container for this work.  You will have an opportunity to sample this process.

Exercise: Mandala

Begin reading Mandala: Journey to the Center by Bailey Cunningham (2002). As you do so, continue with the next section of this guide that deals with the mandala concept.  Consider both sources as preparation for drawing your own mandala which will come as an exercise at the end of the next section.


The word “Mandala” means “circle” in Sanskrit, so you can see that the idea has a fairly long and healthy history.  Usually a mandala is a circle, but it can also be a square where that form is called for.  It is always a closed container.  A mandala represents sacred consciousness and transformation of that awareness.  Its aim is to achieve a higher level of integration and resolution.  As such, it employs an inclusive,  centering principle  using a technique that draws you into the center or source of wholeness and then releasing you back into everyday life.  This may remind you of centering or contemplative prayer and/or meditation.  In this place, we find the basic source of energy that is needed to do the soul’s work of transmutation.

Uses of the mandala

Mandalas can be thought of as doors to the unconscious.  Like dreams they enable you to explore the parts of yourself with which you have become disconnected, or to find aspects of yourself that were hitherto unknown but are potential sources of power.  Also, like dreams, mandalas use symbols as their most important medium of communication.  In constructing a mandala, you create your own forms through the mechanism of projection, imbue them with energy and arrange them in your own unique pattern.  In a reciprocal process, the mandala can release those energies as new insights into the meaning of your life when the creation process is completed.  

A mandala can incorporate many levels of awareness that are usually interrelated through their common center in the diagram.  Also, because a mandala is a container, it can hold and release healing energy.  In addition, since it serves as a projection of the internal process, whatever is out of balance can be observed, accepted and healed.

Because of its ability to represent and contain powerful energies of transformation, a mandala can serve as a map of consciousness.  One definition of consciousness is as “. . the power of an organism to order, integrate and transform itself” (Arguelles, 1985, p. 53).  The mandala works through the order of a sacred principle or state of consciousness in which all creation is realized as a emanation of the Divine One.  As such, God is the Being whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.  Since consciousness is such an elusive idea and one that is difficult to define, it may be useful to have a tool that enables us to work directly with it.

Mandalas are also vehicles to concentrate the mind.  I recently had an opportunity to watch a group of Tibetan nuns construct a sand mandala.  They sat on the floor around the circumference of the mandala which was about four or five feet in diameter using slender, conical tubes that held the sand and would emit it a grain at a time.  The nuns sat cross-legged with a pillow on their laps and leaned into the mandala to apply the sand with their faces about 12 inches from the mandala itself.  Their concentration was so intense they were totally unaware of the surrounding visitors.  After several hours of watching them, I found I had a headache from sharing the concentration.  From time to time, the nuns would arise and withdraw for meditation and relaxation.  They also chanted to help focus their efforts.

Mandala creation

Both the circle and the center hold both positive and negative polarities.  Negative aspects have to be engaged in order to create movement.  They are also part of life and cannot be ignored.  We must find a way to bring them together through some sort of transmutation process.  Evil is always with us.  It does not stand outside the Creator but serves some purpose in the world even though we may find it difficult to discover at times.  In fact, there is such a thing as a demonic mandala which may serve to render negative energies harmless.  It is sometimes said that we need the darkness in order to perceive the light.  And that the shadow is darkest closest to the source of light.  Yang must have its yin.  Contrast sharpens perception of the edges or boundaries thus bringing forward the core messages of the diagram.

Finally, a mandala serves as a gateway between the microcosm (you and me) and the macrocosm (the Divine One).  In many of the oriental mandalas, you can see such gates around the center core of the creation.  You can find examples of gates in your Mandala book on pages 61 and 73.  They are the T-shaped handle-like protuberances on four sides of the mandala.  The one on page 61 is most typical.  Such patterns adapt themselves well to formal gardens, so you can imagine yourself actually walking in through such a gate to find yourself in another world.

Please keep in mind throughout what follows that what is under discussion is your own personal transformation.  All of the parts and processes of a mandala are also your parts and processes.  The mandala is merely a tool to help you make them conscious.  It might be useful, as you go along, to try to identify what each part and process represents to you in your internal environment.

Parts of a mandala                                                                        Mandala
There are a surprising number of parts of the mandala.  Probably the most important is the center.  Center symbolizes eternity, the eternal potential, the mind of God, the primary syllable  Om, Logos, or seed center; in other words, the highest level of being.  It can also represent space-time, self-renewing energy, Bindu and the eternal Now.  It is the Essence, a process of continual renewal, the beginning.  The  center of all parts of the mandala are the same point and the center holds all the polarities together.

From the center comes radiation of energy, so we have rays or something to represent radiation.  The simplest  form is concentric circles.  You could think of rays as that which divides your circle into sections.  It can be any number and depends upon what kind of feelings you are going to depict.  The higher number of rays results in more complex figures.  Consider an eight-part vs a two-part division, for instance.  Pages 86-91 in Cunningham’s book give you examples and instructions on how to create radiation in your mandala.

Another key aspect might be cardinal points or directions. These can represent seasons, cycles, elements or directions.  They tend to come in fours though conceivably could result in other numbers.  The usual depiction of directions includes east, south, west and north.  You will find these on the Native American Medicine Wheel.  Medieval churches and many modern ones were built with a floor plan oriented to the four directions.  Catholic and Episcopal churches usually have a floor plan shaped in the form of a cross which is a classic example of a four-directional figure.  

Exercise: Medicine Wheel

Read The Sacred Tree by Lane, et al (2004). This is a little book that summarizes some beliefs attributed to the Native American tradition.  Pages 72-3 list many of the associations that could be made with the four directions of a medicine wheel, so you can see how potentially rich a symbol this is.  Select one connected set of these that has meaning for you and construct your own medicine wheel.  You could draw, paint or make a collage for this project.  

Gates  were mentioned above.  They enable movement through the mandala and suggest partitions between parts of the diagram.  Gates represent the going into and coming out of the center.  They can be open or shut.  In the sand mandala I saw under construction, there were four gates near the center.  From each one a different color flowed outward and formed a kind of courtyard in the same color.

Color is very significant because it influences our emotional life.  Greens and blues tend to be calming and harmonizing while reds and oranges tend to be stimulating.  Black can be depressing.  These effects may be related to the colors in peoples’ auras which are directly related to their emotional health and well-being.  So the colors in your mandala will reflect the feeling tone of your state of being.  I once rented an apartment that had red counter tops in the kitchen.  It took a while, but I finally figured out why I was so angry whenever I had to cook in there.  Moving solved the problem.

Shapes are kinds of symbols.  And symbols are able to carry multiple meanings at the same time.  So you want to choose your shapes carefully in order for them to represent your situation accurately.  Cunningham recommends you play with the shapes, and this is probably a good place to begin since play is also a projective technique.  But when you have generated a variety of shapes, you can then be selective about which ones to include in your mandala.  The ritual associated with mandala-making that will be introduced later will give you some more guidance in how to do this.

Knots  are an especially interesting addition to a mandala.  Their use comes out of the Celtic and Buddhist traditions where they are often used to symbolize eternity or timeless experiences.  Knots suggest connection and flow, as well as regularity in change.  The symbol for infinity is the simplest knot which tells us something profound.

Processes in a mandala

In addition to the component parts of a mandala, there are important principles that define the transformation taking place.  Some have been mentioned already.  The  principle of the center controls all the basic forces creating and sustaining them through the power of the center.  The law of center prevents splitting from opposing forces or polarities.  It holds cycles together in concentric patterns.  Involution and evolution flow in and out of the center in a symmetrically radiating manner.  The center is self-renewing and continually pours out energy as it draws the observer into its eye.  Perhaps it is no accident that the Ajna Chakra is located in the third eye.

Symmetry is essential to maintain balance of all the parts.  So, for instance, the rays must each occupy the same number of degrees within the circle.  The shapes should balance each other in apparent weight and color even if they vary in outline.  The earth mandala on page 125 and the mandala on page 130 of Cunningham’s (2002) book show how different shapes can be balanced in a symmetrical manner.

Duration refers to the movements in and out of the center that are self-contained and self-renewing.  What makes this movement unique is that it does not run down from inertia.  It is rather like breathing in which the beginning of an inhalation is inherent in the ending of the former exhalation, and the reverse.  It feels to me like the impetus of a movement might be deflected back from the inside of the circle, so that we would have a motion somewhat like that of the yin/yang circle.  Involution and evolution would be examples of duration on a grander scale.  Arguelles (1985) says that “Ongoing awareness of and participation in this creative, self-renewing constitutes a fundamental alchemical activity” (p. 63).  Alchemy, you will remember,  refers to the process of transmutation, changing one thing into another.  So, for example, if we wanted to transmute hatred into love, we would wait for the return surge and try to ride the wave back to the other shore.  This actually can be done using the breath to move emotional energy from the third to the fourth chakra.

Resonance has to do with attunement.  It relies on the fact that material bodies vibrate; and, if the frequencies are in phase, one body will begin to vibrate in tune with another that is already in motion.  In this way, we achieve harmony in music, tune the chakras, find ourselves feeling at one with nature, experience rapture in contemplation, etc.  One of the interesting characteristics of the human mind is that it is capable of changing its frequencies of vibration to enable it to tune into the Divine One.  Sometimes this is called prayer, other times it is called meditation, or ecstasy, rapture or samadhi.  Another way of saying it is that we can get entrained into a rhythm that is outside of our bodies.  Mind to mind communication and ESP probably rely on the principle of resonance.  

Synchronicity refers to the occurrence of two or more related events at the same time without their being physically in contact with each other.  A similar idea is synergy in which the sum of the parts does not equal the whole but is greater than the whole.  These concepts may seem strange at first, but you must realize that we are discussing processes that go beyond our ordinary ideas about how things are.  An example of synergy might be the process that occurs in creation of a mandala.  In addition to the overt production of a diagram, there is a related process of movement and change going on inside the person making it.  This is greater than the diagram itself, but it is integrally related to it.

Organicity refers to the interdependence of all parts of the whole.  They are in a state of unity with each other by virtue of their connection to the center.  You can see how this principle works in the cosmos, in your Self and in your spiritual journey.  There is always an internal focus or locus of control that regulates the internal changes, so they are lawful and predictable.  It is the kind of thing that makes it difficult to think of the dynamically organized universe, to say nothing of a conscious human being, coming into existence without the aid and creativity of an intelligent Higher Being.  Some characteristics of organic living are self-maintenance, self-reproduction and self-realization.  Divine union which is dynamic and indivisible is another example.  It is a fundamental principle of mystical thought and symbolism.  Another word for organicity is the Primal Arrangement which refers to the essential harmony of the universe.  This is celebrated in the I Ching in the eight basic trigrams.

The third eye, represented by the Ajna chakra, means the direct perception of reality, ability to see from the center of oneself just as the all-pervading light is radiated from the center.  It emerges in concert with singlepointedness of mind and is a factor in inner vision.  It sees without seeing, without the use of one’s eyes.  It is knowing from direct experience, prana, or inner wisdom.  This suggests that we already know all we need to know for the journey though we may not know we know it.  That is why enlightenment is often referred to as Self-realization.

Finally, dissolution is an essential principle.  Here it means the dissolving of one developmental stage of consciousness back into the center toward the void/chaos.  This is necessary in order to make room for the new emergent awarenesses which will flow out of the center according to the actions of duration.  Destruction of the mandala when it is finished is symbolic of this.  We cannot hold on to a stage of being because stasis is death.  Attachment to anything prevents us from going forward on the journey through life.  Detachment is of the essence, one might say.

The mandala can be used as a means of self-healing.  Please refer to Cunningham’s book for more detailed information about how to do this.

Ritual for mandala making

Arguelles (1985) offers us eight steps in creating a mandala that I am going to summarize for you.  It might be well, if you can find a copy of his book, to consult it for more details.  Please allow me to put this in the form of an exercise for you.

Practice: Mandala ritual

1.  Finish heading Cunningham’s book, so you have a sense of progression in the process.

2.  Collect the materials you will need and, if you have an altar, bless and consecrate them to the task.

3.  Use the following steps, summarized from Arguelles (1985), to complete the process:

∙    Purification – Bathe and put on clean clothes.  If your body feels polluted from overindulgence, you might want to fast for a short time to cleanse it.

∙    Centering – Sit for meditation until your mind is quiet.  Then attempt to turn your energies inward and focus them on the mandala idea or the issue you wish to address.

∙    Orientation – In your mind, create a coherent, organized field pattern:  Identify the predominant energies and see how they wish to relate to each other.  Concentrate on them and hold your consciousness steady.  You are not yet visualizing, but working with just the energies.  What does it feel like?  And what does it feel like it wants to do?  When some kind of stable pattern emerges, then you can allow yourself to visualize.  Or you can move directly to construction and let the forms emerge as you work.

∙    Construction – Build the mandala in whatever medium feels right and comfortable to you.  See Cunningham’s book for directions.

∙    Absorption – Contemplate the mandala and meditate on what you perceive.  What you are doing here is absorbing the new meanings that have emerged from the construction of the mandala.  You have projected internal material into the diagram, and it has taken on new identities, forms and relationships.  So now, you draw the new meanings into yourself.  They are conscious now instead of unconscious and can be assimilated into your larger concept of Self.  Take a good deal of time with this stage since the more you perceive, the more identification with the work, the more self-renewal you will experience.  I find it helps to put a piece of work up on a table or shelf, walk to the other side of the room, then turn and look at it.  It often gives a perspective that is missing in close-up work.

∙    Destruction – If the absorption stage has been completed, you can become detached from the mandala because its essence has been internalized.  There is a danger in taking pride in your creation as another ego-manifestation, so it should be destroyed.  If, however,  you can restrict yourself to using it as an object of meditation or remembrance, you may find new meanings in it on other occasions.  You must be the best judge of how you will use it.

∙    Reintegration – This does not happen until after detachment.  The healing inherent in this process depends upon reconnecting with the Source, becoming whole once again.  So the new insights must be integrated into your own Self-concept as a divine being.

∙    Actualization – This means for you, as a sacred representative of divine order and chaos and one who is able to ride both waves of actual reality, to carry the new insights and changes out into the world through your own life and work.  What was once an experience of fragmentation and isolation has now become a unity with all that Is.

4.  It seems to me that a proper response to this experience is gratitude.  So you may wish to design another ritual of thanksgiving for your transformation.

Exercise: The Unitive Life as Mandala

Read the Introduction and Phases I and II in The Path to No-self.  Either outline or make a list of the main points as you go along as you will need some notes later.

Equanimity and Balance

How would you know that you have achieved balance especially since it is not a static state of being?  Well, there is a relative feeling of equanimity, a feeling of peace, harmony and grace that pervades all parts of yourself.  It is almost an emptiness.  I remember the first time I experienced it.  It felt like something was missing.  It was almost too quiet.  What was missing was the up and down roller coaster of emotional upheaval.  In time, I came to enjoy it and later to depend upon it for life-giving solitude.

Balance means you are beyond the gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas, in a condition called gunatita.  Qualities of things are no longer important to you.  You no longer need a flashy car, fashionable dress, a big house, a prestigious job or any of the other material conveniences advertised to us continually by the media.  Nor do you need the good opinion of others, friends or family, and you can graciously refuse to be manipulated by them.  Your motivations are now determined from within.

Your mind is crystal clear and empty except when it is called upon to solve a problem or do some work.  In fact, emptiness is the main quality in your life now.  The Buddhist reminder that emptiness is form and form is emptiness has acquired more meaning for you now.  The mantra says, “Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha” which means “Gone, Gone, Gone beyond, Gone beyond beyond, So let it be.”  What is gone is the old self-image and the need to protect it.  Gone are all the social requirements to conform.  You are now your own person.  Present. . .  Present in the Now.

These developments transcend pride.  All of the ego manifestations have disappeared in favor of maitri which means unconditional friendliness to all of one’s experience regardless of whether it might formerly have been judged to be good or bad.  Judgment, itself, has disappeared.  It makes no sense now since who you are is a center of consciousness which is everywhere.  From this position, you may find yourself reaching out to the world with generosity, patience and all of the other paramitas.

Exercise: The Unitive Life, Phase III

Please read about Phase III in The Path to No-self  by Bernadette Roberts (1985), pages 77- 111.  See if you can integrate what she is saying with the process of mandala-making.  How would she identify the Source?

The Unitive Life

This title is a Christian idea that comes out of years of Christian mysticism.  If you have been working through these guidebooks, you will recognize the term from Underhill’s (1961) book, Mysticism.  Roberts (1985), however,  takes us further on the spiritual journey by extending it to a position of no-self.  This being so, the unitive life is now merely a station on the journey rather than the end point.  From her own experience that began when she was very young, Roberts describes that passage in The Path to No-self.  Then she tells us about the end state in The Experience of No-self.  The main difference between the Unitive Life and No-self is that, in the Unitive Life, there are still two players, the individual soul and God.  In the end state, there is only God.  What this means is that the soul is absorbed into the identity of the One Being and, subsequently, lives God’s life in the world.

In the Unitive Life, we have a condition of contemplative union with God.  You have just read about it in Roberts’ book.  It is unity consciousness but in relation to a life in the body.  We are still embodied and are engaged in a subject-object relationship with God.  There are still two of us though the distinction is fading.  I am told that this is similar to Dharmakaya in Buddhism.  Roberts refers to Stage III as the peak experience of the Unitive Life because of the joy and rapture inherent in the closeness to God.

Exercise: The Unitive Life, Phase IV

Read the material on Phase IV in The Path to No-self, pages 112 - 151 and make notes in your journal about the new developments in this stage of the journey and how they might relate to your own journey.

In this unit on Balance, we have looked at some ramifications of becoming a whole and integrated human being.  The process of making a mandala is offered as a tool for developing higher consciousness.


Arguelles, J. & M. (1985).  Mandala.  Boston: Shambhala.

Bly, R. & Woodman, M. (1998).  The maiden king: The reunion of masculine and     feminine.  Hew York: Henry Holt.

Bopp, J. & M., Brown, L. & Lane, P.  (2004).  The sacred tree.  Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Campbell, J. (1973).  The hero with a thousand faces.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Cunningham, B. (2002).  Mandala: Journey to the center.  New York: Dorling Kindersley.

Peers, E. (transl. & ed.) (1959).  Dark night of the soul by Saint John of the Cross.  New York: Image Books.

Piaget, J. (1952).  The origins of intelligence in children, 2nd ed.  New York: International Universities Press.

Purce, J. (1974).  The mystic spiral: Journey of the soul.  New York: Thames and Hudson.

Roberts, B. (1985).  The path to no-self: Life at the center.  Boston: Shambhala.

Spitze, G. (1981).  “Syzygy: A Symbol of Maturation,” The American Theosophist, 69 (10), 323-329.

Underhill, E. (1961).  Mysticism: A study in the nature and development of man’s spiritual consciousness.  New York: Dutton.

Wegela, K. (2003).  “Nurturing the Seeds of Sanity: A Buddhist Approach to Psychotherapy.”  In Mijares, S. (Ed.).  Modern psychology and ancient wisdom: Psychological healing practices from the world’s religious traditions.  New York: The Haworth Integrative Healing Press.

Wilber, K. (1983). Eye to eye: The quest for the new paradigm.  New York: Anchor Books.

This completes Unit III. Balance.  The next Unit IV. Mind will examine how the mind functions at the Ajna chakra level of development.

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