The easiest way to understand a mandala is to think of it as a symbolic representation of the universe, often sacred, always based on a circle. Creating a mandala can be a form of meditation. So can be contemplating a finished mandala.
Eastern religious roots
The word mandala comes from Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, and means circle, disc, halo, orb, heavenly body (sun, moon) etc. In eastern traditions, a mandala is a circular pattern that symbolizes the cosmos and is used for meditation purposes. The mandala originated in the Hindu religion in which it was first used as a design element in temples, and was adapted into Buddhism.
Other religions and cultures have similar meditation aids. Rose pattern windows and circular labyrinths are examples of mandalas from the Christian tradition. Other Christian symbols that suggest mandalas are the Celtic Cross, the rosary and the crown of thorns.
Mandalas are also found in the sacred art of native and first nations cultures around the globe. In my part of the world, a recognizable First Nations mandala form comes from the Ojibwa culture as a dream-catcher.
Carl Jung (1875-1961) Swiss psychiatrist, influential thinker and founder of analytical psychology saw a psychological significance in the mandala. His approach to psychology relied on intuition and symbolism to understand the unconscious, and he came to believe the mandala was a powerful tool and that is was a symbol of Self. From this article:
After years of spontaneously creating his own mandala drawings, he came to understand through his work with dream symbolism that the circle was the foremost symbol of the Self-the organizing principle at the center of the psyche, bringing meaning and purpose to a person’s life.
In his writings on mandala symbolism, Jung articulated how mandala drawings express in non-verbal language the innate movement within the depths of the unconscious towards wholeness-what he referred to as the “individuation process” (C.G. Jung, Mandala Symbolism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959).
The astrological zodiac is a mandala.
The following is a post card flyer I made to give out as a kind of business card. If you are not able to read the printing, clicking on the image will download a full-sized pdf version.