A mandala is a visual diagram on which one focuses during meditation. The term is derived from manas, the Sanskrit word for mind, or, more properly, for the “mind-stuff.” Mandalas are common aids to meditation practice and are found in both Hinduism and Buddhism, particularly in the strands of these two traditions called tantrism (Tantric Hinduism and Tantric Buddhism). Mandalas may contain elaborate pictures of the various worlds theorized by tantrism, or they may be rather stark geometric diagrams.
The psychologist Carl Jung adopted the term to refer to one of the categories of symbols—an archetypal dream image—that regularly appear in dreams. Jung postulated a drive towards self-realization and self-integration, which he referred to as the individuation process. The goal of this process was represented by the “self” archetype, an archetype characterized by wholeness and completeness. One of the concrete manifestations of this archetype is the circle, and it was the various forms of the circle that Jung referred to as mandalas. According to Jung, mandala symbols emerge in dreams when the individual is seeking harmony and wholeness, which often occurs during periods of crisis and insecurity.