Indira interviews mandala painter and teacher Shanti Udgiti
The mandala is an archetypal image whose occurrence is attested throughout the ages. It signifies the wholeness of the Self. This circular image represents the wholeness of the psychic ground or, to put it in mythic terms, the divinity incarnate in man.”
J. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections
What is a mandala?
The mandala, at least in Tibet where it originated, was a sacred art form, an instrument of contemplation and prayer. It comes to us as a way to express meditation, grounding, and as a mirror of our own being. It a vessel which allows us to know ourselves just like C.G. Jung conceived it. He used to draw every day a small mandala and, to auto-analyse himself, interpreted the forms that appeared on the paper.
Can you explain what you mean by that?
Manda-la means ‘to catch the essence’. It is a state of emptiness, of no-mind, where everything comes back to the present, to the here-and-now. All inner and outer events are visible, without all that ‘glue’ which keeps us stuck to and identified with what happens in our daily lives, and keeps us from seeing reality as it is.
Sometimes we know the truth, sometimes we don’t. We can be aware of our inner space and actions during a particular time of our life, whereas in other moments we simply do not have access to this clarity – either because it is unconscious or because that inner space has been activated only recently and we are not totally aware of it yet. A mandala is like a magnifying glass; it catches what is in the unconscious and manifests it through forms and colours.
Among the many artistic expressions, why did you choose the mandala?
The mandala marked the beginning of a new phase in my life. After many years of practising Vipassana I started feeling the need to explore the three-dimensional world of shapes and colours in all their beauty. Through the mandala I found a bridge between silent meditation and my own inner creativity.
You said that the mandala is a vessel: can you please explain?
The mandala has several layers. The first outer layer is a square which represents the world and our relationship with it. The outer circle is related to our masks and ways of relating with the world, while the inner frames represent the many layers of our personality. The centre symbolises the essential qualities of our being, the very source of light and awareness that make us.
Sometimes we are deeply connected to that source and are able to express our qualities harmoniously, in touch with existence. At other times we are more identified with the layers of our personality and act without awareness.
When we interpret a mandala we can discover each level of consciousness. It ranges from the deepest centre to the many different expressions (the concentric layers) and finally to the world – and then from the world, on a journey back toward the centre. Hence we can say that the mandala symbolises the human journey from the self toward the world and from the world back to the self.
We see the symbolic manifestation, not of only skin-deep emotions, moods that are like little waves in the ocean, but of the innermost core. Therefore it often surprises us because of the forms and colours it takes on.
Often people come to me with the intention of painting smooth, soft and round geometric forms and are surprised when they discover sharp shapes in their own mandalas. It is quite interesting to accept the expression of our own real nature through the painting and to let go of ideas we have of ourselves. These sharp lines can become beams of light, or swords that attack or protect; but this can be seen only at the end of the process. In fact, it is not we who create the shape; it comes from moving around the centre and it will show itself gradually as we proceed with the technique.
You talk about ‘moving around the centre’. I understand there is a precise technique. Can you please explain?
The technique is mainly a rotation around the centre. First we divide the sheet in four equal parts where the drawing will be repeated identically. We start with pencil, rulers, squares and compasses and we create a thick grid of lines starting from the centre outwards. Some shapes will result from the interweaving lines and we will choose the ones we find interesting and erase the unnecessary ones.
It is interesting to see that everybody chooses different forms. I see a sun where someone else sees a moon , I see a drop of water where someone else sees a flame. To recognise certain forms means to see something in ourselves and shows that we are already in the middle of the process. We erase useless lines, which means we are clearing layers of personality, and we choose what to keep. We take the responsibility and the risk of showing ourselves and we let go of what we don’t need. In one word, we surrender to existence.
The technique does not touch the emotional level, although it is contained in it. But it creates a certain distance from the emotions so that we can perceive them from an inner perspective. In the mandala we don’t work with emotions, but rather with the deep process we go through while painting.
The gradual and calming technique eliminates the artist’s block in front of a white sheet and there are no limiting fears of not knowing what to draw and which colour to use. After a few months even those who have never held a paint brush in their hands can achieve wonderful creations.
Do we choose the colours before or after the drawing is done?
Each colour is chosen one step at a time and expresses the energy vibration of the person in that precise moment. We choose one colour for each form and we have to use that colour for all the same shapes, while rotating the sheet.
To work on a mandala is harmonious; it is an accurate, detailed and slow process. We never know the final result until the last brush stroke has been placed. There’s always a sense of wonder, astonishment. To think that we can plan ahead a mandala takes away its purpose and meaning since the mandala is the expression of the each moment in the present.
It the beginning you said that the mandala is a meditation, can you elaborate?
Meditation means to be in the here-and-now without caring about the past or the future. When I teach, my students take about 30 minutes to fall into a meditative state. I don’t ask them to do anything. I just show them the technique, that’s all. Even those who have come carrying strong emotions become focused on the present, where indeed nothing is happening. They enter a state of creative meditation and become centred. All attachment to the emotions they had vanishes by itself.
Contrary to what one might think, the technique provides free ground for spontaneous creativity, through images, colours, details that are not dictated by fashion or tradition but are an expression of our own personality and energy vibration.
Those who come to my workshops want to paint but they also want to discover themselves through the mandala. We are not creating a space for meditation as such; the mandala itself is the meditation. I hold the energy and the space for it to happen. I don’t have to ask for silence: silence happens by itself. Each student becomes present and absorbed in what they are doing. Only then can I ask questions. Then they will talk about themselves, but not about their jobs or about their life they have left behind, as they would have done upon arrival.
Let’s go back to the mandala. Does the choice of colour have a specific meaning?
It is true that there are colours that speak for us better than others, but we try not to choose. The colour that we use is the one that ‘wants to be chosen’ in that precise moment and manifests its intrinsic characteristics. For example, if I paint with pink or green – the colours that I think better match my essence – I feel at ease and am totally relaxed while painting. If I decide to go with yellow to experiment something new, I am more careful and I have to pay more attention to what I am doing. In my case, I have not integrated the colour yellow well. It doesn’t match my primary vibration.
It was very interesting to hear, during my last exhibition, the comments of a woman I didn’t know. She was standing in front of one of my yellow mandalas, entitled ‘I am’, and told me that she could see the light from afar, but in order to see the whole painting she had to come closer. It was a revelation for me. She expressed something so deep and important about me, something which described me, that I asked her, “Are you talking about me?”
The mandala undoubtedly talks about oneself. Do you give a reading of your students’ paintings at the end of the workshops?
Yes, to read the colours is alchemical. I need to see the person close to their painting in order to sense the vibration as a whole. There are many interpretations for the colours. The one according to Almaas’ and Faisal’s vision, for example, is the most profound of all. But I am not sure it includes all existing colours. I need a broad spectrum where I can find all the shades of the rainbow. This is the reason why I prefer the vision of Aura-Soma which takes into account many shades of colours and considers the different vibration of each colour in relation to the person who has chosen it.
On the one hand pink, for example, can be connected to devotional love, but also to vulnerability. Both are aspects of pink – from fragility, the ability to receive and give love, but also emotional pain, or fear of love. Yellow can express joy, but also abuse of power. Black can be profound peace, as well as death. Each colour takes a different meaning in relation to the person who has chosen it.
In my readings I also bear in mind the way the colours are used: their intensity and density, and the brush strokes. Everything says something about the person. Even the way we work on the mandala shows how we function in the world. Some make mistakes, acknowledge them and move on without asking for help. Others make mistakes and want me to finish the work for them. Some work very fast and then have to redo everything from the start. Others work in a terrible chaos but can handle it pretty well, while others are very precise but are limited in their creativity.
I also want to mention that during the workshop there are several moments when we can read our own mandala. Each student shows the class their own creation and talks about the meaning they attribute to it. The co-students add their observations and finally I give my reading. Obviously it is nothing more than my own interpretation, far from being the absolute truth. It is an opportunity for me to see how close I come with my interpretation to what others perceive. In the end it will be the student’s discretion to judge what is true and what is not true, according to their own experience.
Anything else you want to say?
Only one thing: Mandala means meditation, creativity and awareness.
Interview taken by Indira – first published in OTI (www.oshotimes.it) – translated from Italian by Ramita
More about mandalas on Osho News
Shanti Udgiti was born in Siena and lived in Florence, where she took a degree in Philosophy and Anthropology. In 1984 she took sannyas in Oregon and lived and worked in Osho’s commune. In Pune she was in Healing Arts, the Mystery School, in Creative Arts, and also worked in the samadhi. She now lives near Verona where, in her studio, she teaches courses and training in Mandala Painting and colour therapy; she also gives Reiki workshops, No Mind and Mystic Rose. www.mandalapainting.com