Introduction to the Mandala book by Rolf Sattler

Contents: Questions - Disturbing Contradictions between Answers - The Mandala and a Mandalic Worldview as a Solution - Outer and Inner Circle (Materialism and Holism) – Holism and Materialism as Levels of a Hierarchy (Holarchy) - Continuum between Materialism and Holism - Materialism and Holism as Yang and Yin - The Mandala as a Network - The Complementarity of Materialism and Holism - Lessons from Physics - Mystery - Arts - Spirituality - A Joke - Out of Balance - Health - Extension of the Mandala - The Big Tube - The Integral Sphere - Shinzen Young's Mandala - The Dynamic Mandala - Maps of the Kosmos and the Mandalic Worldview - Fundamentalism - Education - Silence - A Meditation: Beyond Words and Sounds - About Jokes - Liberation through the Mandala - Mandala Meditation - References


As conscious living beings, we are inevitably confronted with questions about life and living: What is life? Who am I? Why am I here in this world? What is the meaning and purpose of life, if it has any? What is the point? Why does this happen to me? How should I live? How do I want to live? What is my deepest potential and how can I realize it in a world facing destruction in so many ways? And so on...

Disturbing Contradictions between Answers

Science and technology, philosophy and ideology, the arts and culture, spirituality and religion have all provided a multitude of answers to the questions we keep asking. Some of these answers are compatible; others are contradictory. Often we feel lost or threatened by the contradictions. What should we accept and what should we reject?

The Mandala and a Mandalic Worldview as a Solution

This book is not so much concerned with rejection, but rather with integration, with putting it all together. The question then is how such a synthesis can be achieved and what form it will have to take to account also for the formless or unnamable, that which is beyond the thinking mind.

In many religious and spiritual traditions
mandalas have been used to present the most encompassing vision of oneself and the universe. These mandalas usually have a circular shape, although they may include squares and other forms. The centre has special significance because it represents the source from which all personal and kosmic reality emanates. Like Ken Wilber, I write ‘kosmic’ with a 'k' to indicate that it refers not only to the physical cosmos of mainstream science but includes also other dimensions such as mind, soul, and spirit (see below).

It dawned on me that the form of the mandala can be used in a modified way to accommodate and integrate science, philosophy, culture, art, spirituality, etc. Thus, I developed a mandala as the basis for this book on a mandalic worldview and living.
A conceptual and a pictorial version of the Mandala are presented in figures 1 and 2.

conceptual version of the mandala

Fig. 1. The conceptual version of the Mandala

pictorial version of the mandala

Fig. 2. The pictorial version of the Mandala

The conceptual version of the mandala, which I call the “conceptual mandala” throughout the book, appears very simple compared to religious and spiritual mandalas that can be very complex. However, it refers to many aspects of science, philosophy, culture, art and spirituality. At first sight it does not seem appealing because of its abstract and philosophical form. It looks more like a skeleton than a pulsating living being. But those who will read the following chapters, will discover art and spirituality hidden underneath the bare framework of general concepts, and they will see that the general concepts comprise and relate to a wide range of topics of life and living, including the one and the many, wholeness and fragmentation, love and hate, peace and war, health and illness, balance and imbalance, ecology and politics, cooperation and competition, life and death, flexibility and rigidity, freedom and bondage, connectedness and alienation, flow and loneliness, laughter and repression, wisdom and ignorance, compassion and conflict, meditation and unawareness, etc. (for a fuller range of topics see the
Table of Contents).

To make the mandala more appealing to the visual sense and to better indicate its reference to art and spirituality, I devised a pictorial version, which I call “the pictorial mandala”. This version represents more directly the “flesh,” “soul” and “spirit” of the mandala that are not so obvious in its conceptual counterpart.

Outer and Inner Circle (Materialism and Holism)

The concepts of the conceptual mandala are arranged in two concentric circles. The outer circle consists of basic concepts of the materialistic mechanistic view, which implies fragmentation. According to this view, a living system is like a complex machine or a material mechanism. If any one part appears defective, it is either repaired or replaced. Healing, in this perspective, means repairing or replacing the defective parts. Conventional medicine subscribes to this view to a great extent.

Each concept of the outer circle representing materialism and mechanism is paired with a concept of the inner circle that represents holism or the holistic view. Thus, for example, “fragmentation” of the outer circle is paired with “wholeness” in the inner circle. According to the inner circle, the holistic view, a living system is an organic whole. Hence, healing is not just a matter of repairing or replacing parts; it involves the whole person, which is not fragmented into parts or components (see Chapters 1 and 2).

Holism may refer mainly to physical reality and then the mind is seen as a derivative of or an epiphenomenon of matter. This view is common in mainstream science and the systems view of life (Capra and Luisi 2014). According to this view, matter is primary and consciousness is secondary. But according to an opposite view, consciousness is primary and matter is a derivative of consciousness. Matter is the contents of consciousness.This view is often found in Eastern spirituality, but has also been proposed as a scientific theory by
Donald Hoffman (2008) (see the Introduction of Chapter 5 for more detail).

Although the two circles of the mandala are different, their relation can be envisaged in different ways. They can be seen in terms of a hierarchy, a continuum, Yin/Yang, a network, or in terms of complementarity as I shall explain in the following paragraphs.

Holism and Materialism as Levels of a Hierarchy (Holarchy)

Although holism and materialism are often seen as opposites, they can also be seen as the higher and lower levels of a hierarchy. In a hierarchy higher levels include and transcend lower levels. For example, according to the conventional view, an organism – the higher level – includes and transcends cells – the lower level. It transcends the cellular level because it has emergent properties that are not found at that level. For example, a bird can fly, but its cells cannot.

Ken Wilber’s AQAL map is basically hierarchical (see below). He prefers to call it holarchical because he calls the entities that compose it holons. In one version of his AQAL map, he refers to a rational and a centauric level or a formal level and the level of vision-logic (see, for example, Ken Wilber 2007, p. 71). His rational level corresponds to the level of materialism, the outer circle in the mandala. Materialism/mechanism characterizes the rational/scientific worldview of mainstream science. Vision-logic of the centaur, which transcends and includes the materialism and rationality of mainstream science, corresponds with holism, the inner circle of the mandala.

hierarchical (holarchical) view appears useful for an understanding of levels such as the two levels of the mandala. However, it does not allow us to see the two levels in terms of Yin/ Yang and it does not allow us to see the two levels as part of a continuum and a network.

The Continuum between Materialism and Holism

Although mainstream society, biology, and medicine seem largely materialistic/mechanistic, thus relying on concepts of the outer circle, some members of this culture may move more or less toward the inner circle. This indicates a continuum between materialism and holism, the outer and inner circle of the mandala. To indicate this continuum in the pictorial version of the Mandala, the background colours (that range from red to purple) should have been drawn like the colours of the rainbow that form a continuum.

Materialism and Holism as Yang and Yin

In spite of this continuum, materialism and holism (the two circles) are often seen as opposites that have nothing in common. However, they can also be conceived like Yin and Yang: Yin as holism (the inner circle), and Yang as materialism (the outer circle). Yin and Yang do not exclude each other. Yin includes at least a germ of Yang and vice versa (see Chapter 3). If the two circles are viewed in this fashion, then holism in the inner circle is not totally devoid of materialism, and materialism of the outer circle includes at least a germ of holism. For example, in holistic medicine parts may still be distinguished within the organism, and even if the organism is seen as one organic whole, it may still be separated from its environment, at least to some extent. Therefore, fragmentation may not be not totally absent. On the other hand, although conventional medicine tends to be mechanistic, a doctor or nurse may be caring in such a way that an aspect of holism is included (see Chapter 5).

The Mandala as a Network

Since all of the concepts of the mandala are related and therefore can be connected, a network results. This network comprises the two circles of materialism and holism and may even extend toward the centre of the mandala without reaching it completely because the centre remains beyond words and language, unnamable.

The Complementarity of Materialism and Holism

However, in spite of some flexibility in our present society, we can still witness a strong tendency of an opposition of the mechanistic and holistic world views. This opposition is rooted in Aristotelian either/or logic: either A or B, either materialism or holism. However, according to the complementarity principle, it can be both A and B, that is, A and B complement each other; they do not exclude each other. In this sense, the outer and inner circles complement each other, that is, materialism and holism complement each other as Yin and Yang complement one another.

Since our culture and Christianity have been deeply conditioned by the either/or philosophy of
Aristotelian logic, for most scientists, philosophers and laypersons it appears difficult or impossible to think in terms of complementarity. Either/or logic is often taken for granted and it is not recognized that either/or logic is only one kind of logic among other types of logic such as both/and logic. But when both/and logic is adopted, it can change life and living in a very fundamental way (see Chapter 3). Instead of fighting one another whether A or B is the truth, we can lay down our arms and embrace each other because both A and B can coexist. We can have a richer life because we are not limited to either A or B. We can have both and we don’t have to waste our energy fighting each other. We can avoid conflict or war. Hence, the recognition and adoption of the complementarity principle can have far-reaching consequences for science, philosophy, art, religion, and society as well as our individual lives and relationships.

In short, contradictions and oppositions are part of life and living. However, we can embrace them by adopting the complementarity principle. This principle provides one way how we can envisage the relation between the outer and inner circles of the mandala: in their opposition they still complement each other.
Even both/and thinking and either/or logic can be considered complementary, and the the five ways how the relation between the two circles can be seen also complement one another.

Lessons from Physics

Until the beginning of the 20th century, physicists also took either/or logic for granted. With regard to the understanding of light, this meant that light had to be either a particle or wave phenomenon, one or the other. However, as research progressed, it became evident, that this kind of logic was inappropriate because in one experimental setup light could be seen as particles and in another as waves. Thus, it did not make sense any more to follow Aristotelian either/or logic, insisting that it could be only either particles or waves.

Now some would say that therefore light
is both particle and wave. However, a more careful formulation would be to say that light can manifest itself as both particle and wave. What it ultimately “is,” we don’t know. Ultimate reality seems unknowable through science; it seems mysterious. Why? Because everything that is investigated scientifically, is investigated from a certain standpoint or perspective, which is determined by the observational and/or experimental setup, the conceptual framework and state of consciousness of the investigator. This standpoint provides the strength and limits of science. Beyond those limits remains the mysterious, which, according to Einstein (1954) is “the most beautiful thing we can experience... He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”

Thus, with regard to light alone, physics taught us at least three lessons: 1. A new understanding of light, 2. Complementarity, that is, thinking in terms of both/and, and 3. An appreciation of the mysterious as the ultimate ground of reality.


Mystery resides in the centre of the mandala and in the ground from which the words of the two circles arise. Words and their meanings are limited. Hence, “everything that is thought and expressed in words is one-sided, only half the truth; it lacks totality, completeness, unity” (Hermann Hesse in Siddharta, p. 115). Mystery appears beyond words; in this sense, it remains the unnamable.

The relation between words and the unnamable mystery is beautifully stated in the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching (Lin Yutang’s translation):

The Tao that can be told of
Is not the Absolute Tao
The names that can be given
Are not the Absolute Names

The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The Named is the Mother of All Things

Oftentimes, one strips oneself of passion
In order to see the Secret of Life;
Oftentimes, one regards life with passion,
In order to see its manifest forms.

These two (the Secret and its manifestations)
Are (in their nature) the same;
They are given different names
When they become manifest.

They may both be called the Cosmic Mystery:
Reaching from the Mystery into the deeper Mystery
Is the Gate to the Secret of All Life.

The great advantage of the mandala is that it deals with both the nameless (that “is the origin of Heaven and Earth”) and the named (that ”is the Mother of All Things”). In other words: it refers to the unnamable, the unmanifest, the source and the namable, the manifest(ations), that which comes out of the source. And furthermore, the mandala integrates both the unnamable and the named. This may be explained by the following analogy. If we think of the paper on which the mandala is reproduced as the nameless, then we can see the words or symbols on it as the named manifestations. And as the words or symbols are integrated with the paper, so the nameless and named are one. We can see the nameless clearly in the centre of the mandala because nothing is written or drawn there. Therefore, I usually refer to the centre as the nameless or the unnamable. However, from the paper analogy it becomes evident that the nameless provides also the ground of the whole mandala and that the manifestations arise from this ground as mountains arise from the earth. There is no separation of the mountains from the earth. Similarly, the nameless and its manifestations are one, which may be called the “Cosmic Mystery” (as in the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching). Throughout this book I refer to it simply as the Nondual.

In Buddhist terms, the unmanifest is called no-thingness, emptiness, or the formless, whereas the manifest is referred to as form. In the Heart Sutra it is stated that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. With regard to the mandala this means that the emptiness of the centre is the form of the periphery with the words referring to concepts. This identity appears as the great nondual mystery.

Buddhist logic and Jain logic offer logical paths that point to the mystery. Buddhist logic has four values: either, or, both/and, and neither/nor. Neither/nor goes beyond words and thus opens the way to the mystery. Jain logic has seven values that include the indescribable, the nameless, the mysterious.

Korzybski’s Structural Differential also offers a rational explanation why words and language, the named, cannot reach the unnamable mystery that he calls the un-speakable. It illustrates, first of all, that reality and our perception of reality are not identical because we perceive only a fraction of reality. For example, we perceive only a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Then, when we describe our perception through words, we lose part of the richness of our perception. For example, a description of a rose cannot fully represent our perception of the rose. Thus, the named is only a fraction of reality that remains unnamable.

Many books deal only with words and their meaning, that is, only with the named, the manifestations, thus omitting reference to the unnamable, the source. In this book I place great emphasis on the source from which all manifestations arise. Because the mandala indicates so clearly both the source and its manifestations, it can be seen and experienced as the “Gate to the Secret of All Life” (as mentioned in the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching).

Ignoring the nameless, the mystery, as it happens so often, obscures the ground of reality. And blindly assuming that the manifestations are all of reality, leads to endless suffering and misery because we are aware of only one part of creation and mistake this part for the whole, which creates severe distortions.

The inclusion of the empty centre in the mandala is of paramount importance. Without it, we are stuck in the limitations of form, that is, the concepts of the two circles. Having the empty centre of the mandala provides a constant reminder that even the most holistic concepts of the inner circle are not yet the ultimate, which means that writing and talking using words are not the ultimate either. For this reason I end each chapter of this book with a meditation, which hopefully may give us at least glimpses of the ultimate or the mystery.


The arts may also give us glimpses of the mystery. In the pictorial version of the mandala of this book, the arts may be located inside the inner circle within the purple band (see above Fig. 2). Thus they can be seen as a bridge to the unnamable.

Waterlilies by Claude Monet

Music and visual art may transport us into the mystery. And even poetry may take us beyond the namable because words are employed differently from logical discourse. Poets may use words in such a way that they point beyond their normal meaning and the most profound message of a poem is often between the words or lines. Here is a poem by Liu Chang-ch’ing that was written in the spirit of the above lines from the Tao Te Ching:

Walking along a little path,
I find a footprint on the moss,
A white cloud low on the quiet lake,
Grasses that sweeten an idle door,
A pine grown greener with the rain,
A brook that comes from a mountain source -
And, mingling with the Truth among the flowers,
I have forgotten what to say.

Yes, being totally absorbed in the mystery of nature, words fade away...and, paradoxically, the poet has communicated this through words.


Great art is related to spirituality. The word spirituality can have different meanings depending on how spirit is defined or experienced. According to one view, spirit is opposed to matter. This is the dualistic view of existence. According to the nondualistic view, spirit comprises both the unmanifest and its manifestations, emptiness and form. In other words, it constitutes mystery. For this reason, the mandala as a whole represents spirit. However, the unnamable in the centre of the mandala can be seen as the source of spirit and therefore of paramount importance. Anyone who dwells only in the realm of the named, that is, the outer and inner circle, cannot yet have contact to spirit. However, since form is emptiness, the manifest can be the gateway to the spiritual, the body can be the door to mystery, sex can be sacred.

A Joke

Osho (1999, p. 228) told the following joke:

There is to be a christening party for Paddy and Maureen’s new baby, but before the ceremony the priest takes Paddy aside and asks, “Are you prepared for this solemn event?”
“ I think so,” replies the nervous Paddy. “ I’ve got cheese rolls, salad and cake.”
“No, no,” interrupts the priest, “ I mean spiritually prepared?”
“ Well, I don’t know,” says Paddy thoughtfully. “Do you think two cases of whiskey are enough?”

Out of Balance

Contemplating the mandala, we can see that our society seems out of balance in at least two ways: First, we can witness an enormous imbalance between the periphery of the mandala (the two circles) and its centre, the unnamable mystery. For many the unnamable is nonexistent or hardly existent. Even spirituality is often understood in terms of spirit defined conceptually. Hence, even spirituality is pushed into the realm of the namable. And religions often emphasize words and scriptures at the expense of the mysterious. In general, we live in a society in which the experience and celebration of the mysterious has become marginalized. In other words: to a great extent, we have lost our centre, which is represented by the centre of the mandala.

The second imbalance in our society is between the outer and inner circles: materialism and holism.
Concepts of materialism still predominate in nearly all aspects of life, as I shall illustrate in the following chapters. Holistic thinking happens mainly at the fringes of society. For example, alternative holistic medicine is still a fringe phenomenon and often not covered by health care of governments, therefore only accessible to the richer population. Mainstream medicine is still predominantly materialistic and mechanistic and the conservative medical establishment tends to misuse its power to suppress holistic alternatives that often have great advantages over mechanistic medicine (see Chapter 5).


In Chinese medicine health means balance. Sickness means imbalance. Hence many people suffer from sickness, and our society as a whole seems sick because it appears unbalanced as I pointed out above. One purpose of this book is to draw attention to this imbalance and to provide means for greater balance.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the words
health, whole, and holy are derived from the same etymological root. This seems no meaningless coincidence because a healthy person tends to be whole in the sense that (s)he is aware of the unnamable, the holy, and the namable, that is, the centre and the periphery of the mandala.

Extension of the Mandala

The periphery (the namable) of the mandala can be extended beyond the inner and outer circles through additional levels as indicated in Ken Wilber’s AQAL map. This map represents the Kosmos, including human existence. Wilber contrasts Kosmos with cosmos. The latter is the physical cosmos, the cosmos of physicists, whereas the former includes matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit in self, nature, culture, and society. Hence, the AQAL map appears much more comprehensive than the most comprehensive theory of physics such as string theory in its most modern version, the 11-dimensional M-theory.
Ken Wilber has published different versions of his AQAL map ranging from rather simple to more complex and detailed. In the simple version he distinguishes only three levels – body, mind, and spirit – and three dimensions (the Big Three): self, nature, and culture, or art, science, and morals. In more complex versions, he includes four dimensions and up to 16 or 17 levels. In maps that focus on humans, he often uses the following levels: archaic, magic, mythic, rational/scientific, pluralistic, integral (holistic), and transpersonal (see, for example, Ken Wilber. 2005. The Integral Operating System. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, p. 31). In his Introduction to the Integral Approach (and the AQAL Map) and the AQAL Chart he makes a distinction between an integral and holistic level. In the mandala these two levels correspond with the inner holistic circle, and the rational level in the AQAL map corresponds with the materialistic/mechanistic outer circle of mainstream science and society. The pluralistic level can be seen as intermediate between the outer and inner circles since it progresses from the mainstream scientific worldview toward the holistic integral view. The mythic level, which stresses conformism and absolutism, would be outside the outer circle, the magic level outside the mythic, and the archaic outside the magic. In the West and Westernized countries the archaic and magic level have become less influential, but the mythic level still plays an important role, also in America, and therefore cannot be ignored (see, for example, Keller 2016).

According to Ken Wilber, the transpersonal comprises the psychic (nature mysticism), subtle (deity mysticism), causal (formless mysticism) and nondual (nondual mysticism) (see, for example, Wilber 2000a: 287-318; 2001b: 131). In the mandala the psychic and subtle levels would be inside the inner holistic circle, the causal is represented by the empty centre, since it is formless, and the nondual is represented by the whole mandala in its extended interpretation that includes Ken Wilber’s additional levels.

In Ken Wilbers’s AQAL map the progression from the archaic level to the transpersonal occurs from the centre to the periphery of the map, which is in the opposite direction of the mandala of this book and mandalas in general. However, in his "archeology of the self" Wilber (2000b: Fig. 10, p. 103) places spirit in the centre as I placed the unnamable in the centre of the mandala of this book. The untitled painting by
Ulrich Panzer could also be interpreted as representing the unnamable in the empty centre, which is surrounded by several concentric bands that could be interpreted as levels of consciousness ranging from the archaic to integral and beyond.

"Untitled" by Ulrich Panzer

The three or four dimensions of Ken Wilber’s AQAL map - the self, nature, culture, society - are not explicitly represented in the mandala of this book. I am, however, well aware that each concept of the inner and outer circle has three or four dimensions, and I shall refer to them as I discuss these concepts. Thus, the different dimensions are not ignored and not excluded as it often happens in our culture that tends to emphasize objectivity, rationality, and science, which represent only one of the Big Three dimensions. I refer also to the other two dimensions: culture and art or self. The subjective experience of art and the self can be explored through the contemplation of works of art and the practice of meditations that are included in each chapter.

In short, Ken Wilber's AQAL map is more comprehensive than the mandala of this book because it includes more levels that are not explicitly indicated in the mandala. However, in another sense, the mandala surpasses Wilber's AQAL map because the relation between the levels (structure stages) is not only hierarchical (holarchical), but can also be seen
in terms of undivided wholeness, dialectics, Yin-Yang, continuum and network views (see Wilber's AQAL Map and Beyond). Through his Big Tube Theory (also called the Theory of the Pelastrating Universe) Dirk Laureyssens (2002-2009) found a way to integrate all of these different views. I consider this integration of utmost importance because it frees us from the tyranny of hierarchical (holarchical) thinking that has deeply conditioned Western culture and science and as the Great Chain (or Nest) of Being plays a fundamental role in the so-called Perennial Philosophy.

The Big Tube

According to the Big Tube Theory, the cosmological singularity is a spherical, unbreakable, dynamic membrane of neutral, unmanifested energy, nondual non-being (Wu Chi). This membrane has the potential to form oscillations that interpenetrate in a Yin-Yang fashion, thus giving rise to holons that form a network and holarchy, which may exhibit dialectical movement. Although holons may appear to be separate entities, they are continuous with the membrane (of which they are extensions), and therefore, everything being interconnected, undivided wholeness is retained, which is evident in Laureyssens’ pictorial representations of his theory.

The Big Tube Theory is also known as
The Theory of the Pelastrating Universe."The term pelastration combines PEnetration and eLASTic and STRAtification (layers)" (Laureyssens 2007). Through the penetration of one (Yang) part of the unbreakable elastic membrane into another (Yin) part, a continuous layered subset of the membrane, a holon, is created. Continued pelastrations lead to the diversity in the universe. And in this diversity "everything is connected to everything, it's only a question of amplitude, length, frequency, level, angle and position in the tube constellation" (Laureyssens 2002-2009). Thus, "the Big Tube is in fact... a single infinite unity..."(ibid.).

Laureyssens’ pictorial representations of his Big Tube theory overcome limitations of language and semantics. They show that reality is not as discrete and fragmented as words and concepts portray it: holons do not have an existence of their own; the source (the membrane) and its manifestation (holons) are one, not two.

Like Ken Wilber’s AQAL map, Dirk Laureyssens’ Big Tube theory can be seen as a mandala. Whereas AQAL is a conceptual mandala, the Big Tube is a topological mandala with conceptual and organic/artistic aspects. I see AQAL and the Big Tube as complementary models, each one presenting unique views of reality. However, with regard to the levels (structure stages), the Big Tube is more comprehensive than AQAL since it integrates holarchy, holism in terms of undivided wholeness, dialectics, Yin-Yang, continuum and network views. Ken Wilber’s integral vision also integrates these views, but not with regard to the most basic structure of his AQAL map, that is, the levels (structure stages) of this map. On the other hand, one could doubt
the basic axiom of the Big Tube Theory, that is, the existence of the unitary membrane; and Ken Wilber probably would find that the Big Tube Theory as a theory does not sufficiently represent interior subjective reality.

The Integral Sphere

The Integral Sphere: A Mathematical Mandala of Reality has been devised by Thomas J. McFarlane (2004). Besides the AQAL map and the Big Tube Theory, I consider it one of the greatest and most important accomplishments as far as our understanding of the big picture is concerned. It even transcends Ken Wilber's AQAL map in several ways: it allows for more than four dimensions (Wilber's four quadrants) and it can be interpreted in terms of a hierarchy, interpenetrating levels (Yin-Yang), and a continuum, which provides a richness that is beyond Ken Wilber's AQAL map that can be seen as just one special case of the Integral Sphere (see also Ken Wilber's AQAL Dogma and Chapter 6 of Wilber's AQAL Map and Beyond).

Shinzen Young's Mandala

Shinzen Young;s Mandala is entitled Five Ways to Know Yourself. Its major focus is on meditation, but it can also be considered a map of the Kosmos.

The Dynamic Mandala

The dynamic mandala that I proposed in my online book Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond comprises in a dynamic relationship the whole set of mandalas, including mathematical, conceptual, topological, and organic/artistic mandalas. In Chapter 5 of Wilber's AQAL Map and Beyond, I demonstrated several transformations of the conceptual mandala of this book. Ulrich Panzer, who created beautiful circular pictures that represent or resemble mandalas, showed how they can be transformed into each other (see The Blind Man's Song). Other kinds of mandalas, if not actually transformed into each other, can at least be seen as transformations of one another. Hence, the dynamic mandala comprises all mandalas, including the mandala of this book, AQAL, the Big Tube, the Integral Sphere as well as mandalas of the wisdom traditions. All of them share the unmanifest source, which may be represented explicitly or implicitly; however, each of them presents a unique view of manifest reality that is one with the source. All can be seen as complementary perspectives on reality (see also Dynamics and Statics/Dynamics (Chapter 7 of this book).

Pasted Graphic

If we could become more aware that we all share the same source and are different manifestations of this source, the differences between us could not divide us because they arise out of the common source that is one with its manifestations. As the Big Tube Theory shows so vividly, all holons, including human beings with their different points of views and ideas, are emanations (extensions) of the common source, the unbreakable membrane, and remain continuous with it. This means that we remain always interconnected; we always partake of and remain integrated into the whole of reality, the ineffable mystery that bestows holiness on this wholeness. This awareness seems absent in fundamentalism that attaches absolute validity to parts of the whole that are expressed through words and language that have inherent limitations as pointed out by Korzybski and others (see above in the section on Mystery).

Maps of the Kosmos and the Mandalic Worldview

As I point out in Chapter 4 of this book, the set of mandalas can be considered a fuzzy set, which means that it includes also configurations that resemble typical mandalas only to some degree. Thus, the fuzzy set of mandalas includes the whole continuum from a 100% mandala toward a 0% mandala. The dynamic mandala also should be seen as a fuzzy set. At least some of its actual or virtual transformations may resemble a typical mandala less and less. But as long as they comprise both the namable and unnamable they may be considered to belong to the fuzzy set of mandalas to at least some extent. Thus any map of the Kosmos belongs to the fuzzy set of mandalas because Kosmos (written with a capital K) comprises both the namable and unnamable in contrast to cosmos that often refers only to the physical universe of physicists.

Here are some of the most comprehensive maps of the Kosmos that belong to the fuzzy set of mandalas: Ken Wilber's
AQAL map, Thomas McFarlane's Integral Sphere (a mathematical mandala), Dirk Laureyssens' Big Tube Theory (a topological map), and Alfred Korzybski's Structural Differential. The AQAL map in not a typical mandala because the unnamable is located at the periphery of the map instead of in the centre as in a typical mandala. The Integral Sphere has a mathematical structure that deviates from typical pictorial and artistic mandalas. The Big Tube deviates even more from a typical mandala but resembles a mandala in as much as the elastic unitary membrane remains unbroken and encloses everything. Finally, the Structural Differential appears rather unlike a mandala. But if the parabola that represents the unnamable would be drawn as a circle, then the namable (descriptions and inferences) could be seen as emanating from the central unnamable. Hence, all of these maps of the Kosmos and others can be seen as belonging to the fuzzy set of mandalas and a mandalic worldview. They can be seen as complementary to one another and thus all together present a more complete picture of the Kosmos than any one on its own. And therefore there is no fundamentalist need to fight over which one is the absolutely true one.

In conclusion,
the mandalic worldview of this book includes the fuzzy dynamic nondual mandala. Since this worldview affects our way of living, we could refer to a mandalic worldview and living. "We should learn to see everyday life as mandala - the luminous fringes of experience which radiate spontaneously from the empty nature of our being" (Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche).


Fundamentalism occurs at the mythic (conformist) level, which enforces a righteous order “with a code of conduct based on absolutist and unvarying principles of “right” and “wrong.” Violating the code has severe, perhaps everlasting repercussions. Following the code yields rewards for the faithful” (Wilber 2001: 9-10). This leads to extreme rigidity often based on concrete-literal belief. Reasoning seems difficult or impossible because there is only one right way to think about everything.

In fundamentalism one can hardly see any appreciation of the mystery, wholeness and balance.
And yet, many fundamentalists uphold holiness. However, this holiness is not rooted in wholeness and mystery. It is based on words and scriptures, excluding other scriptures and words. No complementarity is recognized. Truth is thought to be either this or that. The opposite is seen as false and therefore is suppressed or even annihilated. Consequently, fundamentalists tend to fight their enemies. Tolerance is rare. Peace seems remote.

Because fundamentalists exclude the unnamable, the mystery, which unites us all, they cannot find ultimate unity. They are bound to live in disunity and imbalance. The question is how we can heal this dis-ease. Probably not through alienation. Kauffman (2008: 288) suggested: “Fundamentalists need to be invited to consider a shared vision as well. Perhaps those faiths will remain unchanged. Perhaps they will slowly evolve together with a natural God. It will be a long cultural journey, should we undertake it." Furthermore, we have to keep in mind "that to think somebody else has a rigid view is in itself a rigid view... So having some sense of openness for the other person's rigid view to be there is part of being open. The more internal space we have the less rub there is" (Brunnh
ölzl 2012: 148).


One answer to fundamentalism is education, especially of the young who are still flexible and open to new insights and experiences. Teaching them many aspects of life and living, what Ken Wilber (2001b, pp. 95-96) calls integral education, appears healthy. All those aspects complement one another. Furthermore, since anything expressed in words has inherent limitations, one has to go beyond words and language. Entering silence and the mystery may lead to unity and peace.


The mandala reminds us of silence because silence or stillness is built into its centre. Therefore, whenever we talk or write, whenever we present an argument, we are reminded that it is not the ultimate, that we have to return to the silent centre of the mandala, which is also our silent centre. Whenever enemies or lovers argue with each other, they are reminded that their words, thoughts, philosophies and ideologies are not absolute and need to be absorbed into silence so that there can be peace and unity. Silence unites, whereas words and thoughts may divide. We would live in a more peaceful world if our lives would be guided by mandalas that remind us to always return to silence after argumentation. If, in addition, we can remain aware of the silent centre while talking and arguing, then even arguments cannot separate us because we remain anchored in the nameless, silent centre.

A Meditation: Beyond Words and Sounds

The question is how we can be in silence in a world that is almost constantly bombarding us with words, thoughts, philosophies, ideologies and religious doctrines that have so deeply conditioned our subconscious so that we deprive ourselves of liberating silence. Changing our life-style and making room for silent moments and periods is a good start, but in addition we may need powerful meditation techniques that may help us to return to the silent centre of the mandala, which represents also the silent centre in ourselves. One such technique can be found in the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra, an ancient Shiva Tantra (see Osho 2010). This technique reminds us that words and language do not only have meaning, but also a sound. By immersing ourselves totally into the sound of the words we can let go of the meanings that divide. And from the sound it is easier to reach silence because sound and silence are closely related. Both exclude the thinking mind that so often prevents us from entering into silence. There is, of course, nothing wrong with the thinking mind; it can be helpful in may ways. However, often it dominates our life to such an extent that we can no longer turn it off. Then we have become slaves of the thinking mind. But we do not want to be slaves, we want to be masters of the thinking mind: able to use it when it is required, but also able to enter into silence without being disturbed by the thinking mind.

The thinking mind can be such a dictator that it does not even allow us to focus only on the sound of a word without its intellectual meaning. Therefore, the technique from the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra relies on a special device to overcome this difficulty. It is practiced as follows:
We start with a word. Then we visualize the letters of the word. Note that at this point you are already beyond the intellectual meaning of the word because letters do not have such meaning. Then we hear the letters as sounds, and then we discover the feeling of the sounds. Thus, we move from letters to sounds to feelings. And when we reach the deepest layer of feelings, we leave them aside. This cannot be forced. It can happen spontaneously, and then it leads us to the core of our being. Thus, this technique, if practiced diligently, has the potential to lead us to liberation.

About Jokes

Jokes can also have a liberating effect, at least momentarily. They can loosen up the dominance of the logic of the thinking mind at least to some extent. How does this work? When a joke is being told, it starts out logically. But then as one expects certain things to happen according to the logic, suddenly something totally unexpected, something illogical happens, and at that point we burst out into laughter: tension is released and we relax into life beyond logic. Thus, a joke transports us into a realm of life that logic cannot reach. For this reason jokes are important in this book on life and living because life and living cannot be fully understood in terms of logic alone. Logic is part of life and living, as it is part of a joke, but it is not the whole of life and living.

The dominance and strictures of logic can also be transcended through the arts and meditation. Therefore, the arts and meditations have been included in this book, although appreciating art and practicing meditation may be difficult for many people. Listening to a joke is easy for almost everybody. It may not be possible to become enlightened this way. But Osho (1999, p. 653)
said that enlightenment “is the punchline of the ultimate joke”.

Ken Wilber (2000, December 7) wrote: “TRANSCENDENCE RESTORES HUMOR. Spirit restores humor. Suddenly, smiling returns”. The opposite also happens: humour restores transcendence and spirit. Thus, humour and spirit mutually reinforce one another. The problem is that too many people are just too serious and lack a good sense of humour. Wilber (ibid.) noted:
“Too many representatives of too many movements - even many very good movements, such as feminism, environmentalism, meditation, spiritual studies - seem to lack humor altogether. In other words, they lack lightness, they lack a distance from themselves, a distance from the ego and its grim game of forcing others to conform to its contours... They should trade two pounds of ego with one once of laughter.”

Liberation through the Mandala

Liberation in the wide sense may occur at different levels simultaneously or, more often, successively: within the thinking mind, within our emotional life, and finally the transcendence of both the thinking mind and our emotional baggage. As we move from the periphery of the mandala to its centre, we can free ourselves step by step from conditioning and bondage.

When we begin this journey with concepts, theories and philosophies of the outer and inner circles of the mandala, we realize that these concepts, theories and philosophies as well as other philosophies, ideologies and religious doctrines are all relative, that is, they are different perspectives on reality. To all of them the principle of complementarity can be applied. Thus, they lose their absolutistic grip on us. This means, we can put aside, at least temporarily, each philosophy, ideology and religious doctrine, especially our favourite one, to entertain complementary alternatives. From each of the complements we can learn something. Hence, considering all of them is enriching, not threatening.

We can also see that each concept, theory, philosophy, ideology and religious doctrine is limited. And we don’t have to lock ourselves into these limitations. As we free ourselves from these strictures, we can also free ourselves from emotions. Emotions can be seen as combinations of thoughts and body sensations that are deeply rooted in our whole being. A great variety of techniques, therapies and meditations can be used to gain more freedom at this level. Each person has to find what works best for him or her. The Mandala Meditation that ends this Introduction is one way among others.

As we contemplate the mandala and move onward from its periphery of thought and emotion, we eventually enter its centre where we can find freedom in silence. If thoughts and emotions still arise, we can witness them with equanimity and detachment, that is, we are no longer dominated by them; we are free. Needless to say, this may require practice and deep immersion (see, for example, Shinzen Young 2016).

Once we have entered the centre, we can embrace the mandala as a whole because, as pointed out above in the section on mystery, the centre includes the ground of the mandala from which everything arises (see the meditation on ONE TASTE at the end of Chapter 2).

Mandala Meditation

This meditation technique, which has been devised by Osho (2004), begins with strong physical activity and then through increasingly gentler movements leads into the final stage of stillness. After running on the spot, rotate your body from the belly in a sitting position, then lie down and rotate your eyes, and finally rest in stillness (for detailed instructions see Osho 2004). It can be practiced with or without music.


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Latest update of this webpage on February 18, 2020.

Contents and Preface of this book

Chapter 1: Wholeness and Fragmentation


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