Complementarity of Different Maps

Chapter 8

"...widening our circle of understanding and compassion..."(Albert Einstein)

Ken Wilber presented his AQAL map as A Theory of Everything. However, no single map can present everything. Therefore, we need a plurality of complementary maps to obtain a more comprehensive picture. Mandalas are maps that include the namable and unnamable. Creating and contemplating mandalas can be healing. The dynamic mandala comprises all mandalas that complement one another. This complementarity is also healing because it creates an even more encompassing wholeness.


Ken Wilber’s AQAL map of the Kosmos, including human existence, is a comprehensive map that allows us to see how healing thinking is related to and affects other realms of Being. However, we have to keep in mind that a map is not the territory it refers to (see Chapter 4). Wilber agrees but claims that AQAL “is the most complete and accurate map we have at this time” (Ken Wilber. 2007.The Integral Vision. Boston: Shambhala, p.18). Many of his critics dispute this claim. In my book Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond, I also pointed out shortcomings of the AQAL map. One of the most fundamental shortcomings or limitations of this map resides in its most fundamental structure, which is hierarchical (holarchical) and thus excludes other ordering principles (see Ken Wilber, Holarchy and Beyond). Instead of insisting that “the Kosmos is a series of nests within nests within nests indefinitely (Ken Wilber. 2001. A Theory of Everything. Boston:Shambhala, p.40), which means that the Kosmos is hierarchical (holarchical), it seems more appropriate to say that the Kosmos is hierarchical (holarchical), etc. This formulation entails one of Korzybski’s extensional devices that avoids the trap of identity: saying what it is and thus excluding much that it also is. For example, the “etc” could include other views of the Kosmos such as holism in terms of undivided wholeness, dialectics, Yin-Yang, continuum, and network views (for a brief review see Ken Wilber, Holarchy and Beyond). Ken Wilber also recognizes such views, but not with regard to the most basic structure of the Kosmos, which, according to him, is holarchical.

In other respects, we also need other maps that complement the AQAL map. It has to be understood that no single map can represent everything. Even a less comprehensive map may illuminate some aspects that the more comprehensive map ignored or neglected. To use an analogy, an aerial view of a mountain provides a comprehensive map of that mountain, but a map of a cave in that mountain shows details that could not be seen on the more comprehensive aerial view (see my post on Perspectivism and Complementarity: AQAL, the Big Tube, and the Dynamic Mandala).


To provide a more comprehensive and accurate picture of reality, including human existence, we need a great variety of maps such as conceptual, mathematical, pictorial and artistic maps. As with maps, so with mandalas. Mandalas can be seen as maps that refer to both the namable and unnamable. They often represent the unnamable in the centre and the namable emanating from that centre. When the unnamable is not represented explicitly, the shape of the mandala may suggest the unnamable (see my post on The dynamic Mandala).

Thomas McFarlane devised a
mathematical mandala that in some respects appears even more comprehensive than AQAL. In Chapter 5 of my book "Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond,” I presented a number of conceptual mandalas. Artistic mandalas, including mandalas of the wisdom traditions around the world, are well known.

Contemplating or creating mandalas can be healing for the mind, body and soul. Mathematical and conceptual mandalas can inspire and support healing thinking, which in turn can be healing for the body and soul. Artistic and spiritual mandalas can be healing for body-mind-soul (see, for example, Cornell, Judith. 1994.
Mandala. Luminous Symbols for Healing. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books)

Carl Jung and others have used mandalas to explore and heal the psyche. Mandalas can also be a complement to conventional medicine because they work holistically…”mandalas are, at the deepest level, a reflection of the self, the cosmos and the love that binds everything together” (Fontana, David. 2005.
Meditating with Mandalas. London: Duncan Baird Publishers, p. 53).

The Dynamic Mandala

The AQAL map by Ken Wilber can be considered an unusual mandala in which the unnamable is at the periphery instead of in the centre as in typical mandalas. As I pointed out in the preceding chapter, Wilber presented several versions of AQAL with differences in the conceptualization of the levels (structure stages). However, the basic structure of AQAL appears fixed. In contrast, the dynamic mandala that I proposed in my e-book Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond, has no such fixation. As in a kaleidoscope, any one mandala may be transformed into another mandala, and through this transformation the structure of the mandala may also change. For example, a hierarchical (holarchical) mandala such as AQAL may be transformed into a nonhierarchical one. As a result more perspectives of reality can be seen and explored. Greater freedom can be gained, which can contribute to health and healing.

Actually, not all mandalas have been devised as transformations of preexisting mandalas. It seems that most mandalas, especially artistic mandalas, have been created independently as different perspectives on reality. Nonetheless, they can be
seen as transformations of one another in the following sense. As we move from one mandala to another, we have to change our standpoint that provides a perspective. Thus, the transformation of the mandalas occurs via the observer or contemplator of the mandalas. Since ultimately the observer and the observed are one, transformations occur in the unity of the observer and the observed that we may refer to as the dynamic mandala. Alternatively, we may just emphasize that all mandalas are different complementary perspectives on reality that are united by the unnamable, which may be represented explicitly or implicitly.


Although the AQAL map by Ken Wilber is a comprehensive map of the Kosmos, including human existence, it has limitations and shortcomings. Even if Wilber would enrich his map through useful suggestions made by critics who offered constructive criticism - forget those who just like to tear anything apart - it would have to remain limited because no single map can represent everything. Every map seems more or less limited. Nonetheless, we want the most comprehensive map that includes details of less comprehensive maps. But we have to realize that less comprehensive maps may show details that the most comprehensive map does not and cannot include. Therefore, less comprehensive maps seem also useful. In general, a plurality of maps enriches our understanding and enjoyment of reality. Such maps may be mathematical, conceptual, artistic, etc.

Mandalas are maps that include the namable and the unnamable. Since there are numerous, if not endless ways of representing the namable, the number of mandalas we can create seems unlimited or nearly so.

dynamic mandala allows us to move freely from one mandala to another – like in a kaleidoscope. Through this movement we can connect different representations of reality, including the AQAL map, which can be considered an unusual mandala in which the unnamable is at the periphery instead of in the centre as in typical mandalas. Since different mandalas can be seen as complementing one another, antagonism and conflict between mandalas, especially conceptual mandalas, can be relinquished and this again may be healing. Simply contemplating individual mandalas, especially artistic or spiritual ones, can also be healing.

Table of Contents of this book manuscripts on Healing Thinking and Being.