Discounted sessions for Vets!

Are you a Vet from the Iraq and Afgan wars? Do you suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction, mood swings, paranoia, carrying or have a weapon,insomnia, violent outbursts, intrusive thoughts, images you can not forget?
I am not here to judge, but to listen and suggest if you wish to have objective feedback.
All Vets will receive 1/2 of their sessions that they commit to. The other half of sessions, will be at discounted fees. If one can not afford sessions I am willing to do pro-bono sessions.
If working with a psychiatrist we will work together as a team.I also offer couples therapy and/or family therapy with our Vets too. I also see Vietnam Vets as well. Please contact Buirge for more info:
See contact page!
Bring the troops home now!

Iraq and Afgan Vets suffering from PTSD, Depression,Addiction,etc. will receive 1/2 sessions FREE

Are you a Vet from the Iraq and Afgan wars? Do you suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction, mood swings, paranoia, carrying or have a weapon,insomnia, violent outbursts, intrusive thoughts, images you can not forget?
I am not here to judge, but to listen and suggest if you wish to have objective feedback.
All Vets will receive 1/2 of their sessions that they commit to. The other half of sessions, will be at discounted fees. If one can not afford sessions I am willing to do pro-bono sessions.
If working with a psychiatrist we will work together as a team.I also offer couples therapy and/or family therapy with our Vets too. I also see Vietnam Vets as well. Please contact Buirge for more info:
See contact page!
Bring the troops home now!

Buddhist Archetypes and the Mandala Principle: Applications for Therapists in Training and for Counseling Clients

Buddhist Archetypes and the Mandala Principle: Applications for Therapists in Training and for Counseling Clients by Buirge Sullivan Jones



This paper explores the use of Tibetan Buddhist archetypes, symbols, and mindfulness teachings for the training of the Contemplative Psychotherapist and therapeutic work with clients. I will examine a universal aspect of Tibetan Buddhist teachings: the archetype and the lessons of the mandala. I will demonstrate how this archetype and lessons associated with it, once translated into everyday language, can prove most useful in therapy. My own experience as a participant in a maitri mandala retreat also proved essential to the development of my thinking. I have included a description and assessment of that experience along with clinical examples of how the mandala as archetype can be most helpful in therapeutic practice.


Acknowledgements I would like to acknowledge Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Dr.Edward Podvall, Marvin Casper, and Shunryu Suzuki for their vision, aspiration, and insight in developing the maitri space awareness rooms (mandala). I also wish to acknowledge Chogyam Trungpa and Dr. Edward Podvall in their vision and aspiration in the development the Masters of Arts Contemplative Psychotherapy program.

Love and deep thanks to my spiritual teachers that have inspired me to become a therapist, especially those of the North American Indian lineages and the Europe/American Pagan revival lineage. Appreciation and deep bows to my teachers, mentors, and spiritual friends on my educational and professional journey: Camille D’Ambrose, Gail Smogard, Patrica Denny, Robert Johnston, Karen Wegela, Paul Bialek, Alexandra Shenpen, and especially William Malcom Raich.

My love and appreciation to my father Dr. Thomas B. Jones Jr. PhD and his father Dr. Thomas Bard Jones Sr. PhD for their wisdom, love, and passion for teaching and higher education. I hope to follow in their steps. In addition, to my “crazy wisdom” mother, Janet Jones, whose deep appreciation, love, and practice of the art of expression has been therapeutic and inspiring. My eternal love and gratitude, to my lifelong best friend: Cathlin Matson and our small band of kitties (mock children)-Jerry, Morgaine and Dylan.

Lastly, to all artists and therapists, who came before me, who have used art as a method to help heal and express the spirit of human experience through painting, music, prose, and film. Also, to my fellow cohort members of the class of 2010 of the MACP program who have been my support, teachers, and fellow travelers on the road to becoming a Contemplative Psychotherapist.


Buddhist Archetypes and the Mandala Principle: Applications for Therapists in Training and for Counseling Clients

In the contemporary practice of psychotherapy, an interesting shift is occurring. Clients are expressing a desire to integrate personal spiritual and religious journeys into the therapeutic experience. Psychologists, counselors, and analytic psychotherapists realize that Western psychology has its limitations in this context.

As a result, many therapists are turning to Eastern and Western psycho-spiritual modalities to provide a compliment to traditional therapy. Therapists are learning how to remodel spiritual-religious path work into a non-theistic framework. New therapeutic modalities are on the rise, inspired by Eastern and Buddhist practice techniques. In this changing environment, mindfulness techniques are used in therapeutic interventions, meditation techniques are employed for anxiety issues and the regulation of


emotions, and a focus on clients’ present situations is often the first order of business rather than delving into past experiences.

Some of the most prominent new therapies gaining momentum are DBT (Dialectical Behavior therapy), ACT (Acceptance and Commitment therapy), and Mindfulness based cognitive therapy. These new Eastern modalities form the basis of new therapeutic treatment plans and therapeutic interventions simply by taking Eastern spiritual concepts, archetypes, and symbols and converting them into common, everyday layman terminology and conceptual understandings.

In the training of the Contemplative Therapist, a fine line exists between Buddhist psychology and Buddhist spirituality. How can the Contemplative Psychotherapist serve their clients’ desires for the integration of the spiritual journey along with therapy? How does the Contemplative Psychotherapist effectively translate Buddhist psychology training into everyday layman terms? Examining the Buddhist mandala concept in therapeutic situations I have faced may help answer these questions.

The word mandala in Sanskrit literally means “essence,” “having,” and/or “containing.” In Tibetan, it is described as “circle circumference” or “completion” (Arguelles, 1972, p. 12). Carl Jung defines it as “a representation of the unconscious self “ (Jung, 1976, p. 178). In Native American and other indigenous cultures, the term used is “the sacred holy circle” (Arguelles, 1972). We also can find the mandala represented in various aspects of American culture (for example, stained glass church windows, business training modalities, and in management training graphs).

The mandala symbol is found most everywhere in world cultures, expressed in theistic and non-theistic realms. The mandala itself surely proves Carl Jung’s theory of the “collective


unconsciousness”—a theory that explains, for example, why symbols and archetypes may appear in two cultures half way across the world from one another and which have had little or no contact with each other. Jung purposes that there are common universal themes, archetypes, and symbols embedded in the collective unconscious of the human race as a whole.

These universal symbols, archetypes, and similar expressions can be found within individuals, within their historical cultural heritage, within the societies in which they live, and even within their dream worlds. The mandala can be manifest in spiritual visions, dreamtime, artistic expression, and in what may be called “mother nature” (e. g., flowers, rock formations).

In this paper, I will not be writing about the spiritual experience of the mandala or its manifestation in the “collective unconsciousness.” I will not go into detail concerning the lessons and techniques of mandalas within the Tibetan culture. Rather, I will be discussing how the concept of the mandala has been used in the training of Contemplative Psychotherapists and its use as a therapeutic technique. I will add some personal insights concerning my own experience of the Tibetan Buddhist mandala concept as well as investigate how I have integrated my personal experiences of Buddhist psychology into the therapeutic process with my clients.


Tibetan Buddhism and the Training of the Therapist

At the outset of my internship, I nervously awaited working with my first clients. Even though I had completed the required psychology classes, I did not feel well-trained in a specific psychological modality at that moment. My Transpersonal Counseling Practitioners (TCP) companion counselors confidently espoused a variety of techniques and exercises.

In comparison, I could talk to clients only about my meditation experience insights, what I had learned about the human mind through academic study, and how some of the basic Western modalities might be useful (which I felt anyone would have known sitting through a class in basic Psychology 101). I feared not having a ready kit of tried and trusted therapeutic tools. I felt somewhat lost, without confidence, and quite anxious. Would the men and women I was about to counsel pose serious issues and problems beyond my ability to respond?

As the journey began with my new clients, I gradually realized the need for strong and useful modalities and techniques. My experiences of working with my states of mind in meditation, reflecting on the theories and techniques behind Buddhist psychology, and participating with groups all promised to be of value dealing with the suffering of clients.

However, two important questions still haunted me: How would I most effectively apply the language and concepts I have learned from Buddhist psychology to my work with clients? How could I avoid imposing a Buddhist belief system on those who have never heard of Buddhism or did not consider themselves as Buddhists?
I am not a Buddhist. Yet, I have been able to take what I have learned within the Buddhist framework and apply it to myself without altering significantly my spiritual outlook.

So, in one sense, I could relate to my clients on this level and that it would be helpful for me to come from that perspective in working with clients. Buddhism compliments my spiritual beliefs, and helps me understand how I perceive, react, and sometimes get caught within belief systems.


My introductions to concepts like bodhicitta, compassionate action, the paramitas, maitri, and other Buddhist teachings have helped me cope with personal suffering. The process has also revealed how I can become “stuck” in my own self-centered perceptions of the world.

Every time I have encountered and reflected on Tibetan artwork — mandalas, deities, and artistic representation of teachings, for example — it has been psychologically helpful for me. Tibetan artwork has enhanced my understanding of the foundations of Buddhist teachings, sometimes better than any reading or discussion of Buddhist concepts. The art inspires me and complements my passion for the study of universal archetypes in world religions and spiritual philosophies. I also have begun to make connections from one spiritual culture to another.

Though Buddhist archetypes have not been a big part of my training or experience at Naropa University, I am interested in linking these archetypes with aspects of western, in-depth psychology and exploring the use of universal archetypes in a therapeutic context. Because of my ongoing relationship with clients, interviewing sessions, and working to understand more about their learning styles, perception patterns, and means of inner reflection, I have found something quite exciting. By downplaying, to an extent, the labels, definitions, and language of Tibetan Buddhist psychology, I can take what I have learned at Naropa and apply it to the needs of my clients.

Meditation retreats at Naropa especially have inspired me to use therapeutic approaches drawn from Tibetan Buddhist psychology. After several weeks of meditation, aimed at calming the mind and its emotional and discursive thought patterns, the training therapist is ready to experience the “maitri rooms.” The maitri rooms are, in effect, a living mandala in artistic form. The training therapist meditates for thirty minutes at a time, in a yogic posture, within the maitri five rooms. Each room has a different color, direction, and symbolic teaching derived from the


Buddhist psychology concept of the “five wisdom energies” (which can be experienced as both neurotic and enlightened). These five wisdom energies are a product of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings dealing with the “five buddha families”. The five wisdom energies or “buddha families” are broken down symbolically into five rooms.

“Each room is vibrant, painted a single color corresponding to one of the five basic energies. They are slightly different in size and design.There is a fifteen foot tall green room with a window to the sky at the very top, a square yellow room with a large sun like window, a red room with a small rectangular window, a deep-sea blue room, very narrow with several tiny slits of windows, and a smaller off-white windowless room in the middle” (Evans, Shenpen, & Townsend, 2008, p.207).

These five rooms are “considered the quintessence of the five elements of water (vajra family), earth (ratna family), fire (padme family), wind (karma family) and space (buddha family) “ (Evans, Shenpen, & Townsend, 2008, p. 208). The five wisdoms are said to give rise to all inner and outer phenomena of the relative world. One can experience the rooms “as flavors of compassionate openness, as neurotic confusion, or in their most fixed state, as psychosis” (Evans, Shenpen, & Townsend, 2008).

The building, as mentioned before, is a symbolic Buddhist archetype come to life. It is a living mandala. If one observed the construction of the rooms from directly above, a bird’s eye view, they would see how the building resembles a Tibetan mandala. There is a center (buddha room), and surrounding the very center are the other four rooms each placed in a certain direction (i.e. west, north, etc.). Each room also represents a direction and a season of the year (i.e. spring, winter, etc.). Again, the buddha room is dead center in the middle of all the other rooms, emulating Tibetan mandalas where there is usually a symbolic archetype or deity used for


meditation. By emulating, I mean that the rooms are contained in a circular pattern. Then we have a room pointed in each cardinal point, ending with a center point that usually represents the symbolic teaching as a whole.

Buddhist Archetypes as a Psychological Tool: The Mandala

As I sat in the “buddha” room, meditating several inches away from a white wall in a room painted completely white, suddenly I had a powerful insight and experience: to my eyes, the arrangement of the maitri rooms comprised a symbolic, living representation of a mandala. The maitri rooms had a center (buddha) with rooms to the east, west, north, and south. Starting and then ending in the center room, the discovery of this symbolic arrangement of rooms left me eager to learn more. Of course, starting and ending my meditations in the buddha room heightened my psychological journey and understanding of the maitri room teachings.

Within the buddha room, staring at the angle and yogic position while meditating, all visible lines, boundaries, and barriers in my perceptual field “disappeared.” All I could see and experience was white light. At first, I felt anxious. I liked boundaries and barriers because they gave me a sense of place and, I suppose, a more familiar reality. However, as time passed, the unfamiliar became more familiar. Positioned in the center of this mandala and freed of


boundaries and barriers, I could appreciate the symbolic representation of Buddhist teachings on emptiness.

‘Emptiness is form. Form is emptiness.’ This famous Buddhist phrase concerning an experience of emptiness has puzzled more than a few practitioners. No one has been able to forge these concepts into common knowledge and an adequate description.

Nevertheless, my experience in the buddha room with the formless white light gave me some insight into the meaning of this concept. I think of the buddha room as a symbolic representation of what emptiness may be. I recognized how I project my thoughts, opinions, perceptions, and senses on a world outside of myself—essentially on blank empty space (something analogous to a canvas devoid of form until the artist starts to paint her concepts and reality upon it).

I extended my experience when I wandered aimlessly outside of the rooms. I saw the universe like a mandala and the teachings on emptiness. Outside of my projected mental construction of world, our world has form and matter with the trees, earth, water, and the like. However, what sense did it make to project my own personal feelings, opinions, and reactions on this world of form?

Essentially, the world outside of my personal projections is purely and innocently devoid of what I felt to be solid and true for my experience. Like so many before me who have attempted to describe their understanding of emptiness, words alone prove inadequate. Such a concept must be deeply experienced, and it remains intensely personal.

The buddha room experience also exemplified the teaching of the Buddha’s fourth noble truth for me: that is, a path or tools of cessation are available to end our own and the suffering of others. My experience in the buddha room, centered on this fourth noble truth, helped me break free from years of neurotic stress, irrational perception, fear, and anxiety. These burdens fell away from me. For a brief time, I entered into a feeling of bliss, of inner peace.


To this day, when I sense myself becoming dissociative, paranoid, irrational, or consumed by negative emotion, I recall my lesson in the buddha room. It is a great visual reminder that I am projecting my fears and insecurities onto the world at large, which in turn is empty of what I “think” is happening.

The maitri rooms also helped me better understand the role of the ego—how and why it wants to maintain itself constantly. The fear and anxiety I initially faced in the maitri room at seeing no boundary, form, and lines to define the room proved to me how my ego’s fear of a non-existent, solidified environment created mental and emotional projections to maintain an illusion. I saw quite vividly how the ego tries to use projection and solidification to maintain itself. If all this sounds confusing, let me offer a quote by Chogyam Trungpa, in which he describes what a buddha room experience may be.

“There is experience, then space or emptiness, and then the final aspect, which is called luminosity. Luminosity has nothing to do with bright visual light. It is a sense of sharp boundary and clarity. There is no theoretical or intellectual reference point for this, but in terms, but in terms of ordinary experience, it is a sense off clarity, a sense of things being seen as they are, unmistakably” (Trungpa, 1991, p. 132).

Later, upon reading on maitri space awareness, I realized I was not alone in having such an experience. Another student/therapist described her time in the buddha room:

A quality of bare awareness prevails, a sense of well-being and simplicity arise. There is an experience of an expression of non-aggression, of simply being. Nothing extra, just awake. Nothing, but awake. There is room for everything, it seems—including all types of personalities, and room to just to be oneself. But, there is room for considerable projection as well, because assumptions can flourish in the absence of much expression (Evans, Shenpen, & Townsend,2008 p.199).


After this profound experience, and as I continued to notice its affects even months later,

I thought about how I could work the experience of the maitri rooms into therapy sessions with my clients. In doing so, I saw the possibility of underwriting a different sort of therapeutic intervention for my clients. I am a visual learner, and so are several of my clients. Sometimes, transmuting the maitri room experiences into common everyday language and as a concept for my clients has proved helpful. Therefore, as appropriate, I may use a mandala picture (similar to the maitri room) and teachings associated with it so my clients might gain universal insights similar to mine.

Western and Eastern psychology accept that the ego and its filters (perceptional choices on how we view the self and the world) are some of the main causes of human suffering and why people seek therapy. Many persons are taught to believe that there is something wrong with them or that they are inherently bad. The concept of the mandala, especially in Tibetan Buddhist terms, I think, can be a tool to learn how we may be causing our own personal suffering—in addition to how outside environments may influence our suffering.


The Symbolic and Archetypal Teaching of the Mandala

Many years past, seeking historical spiritual and religious answers to the problem of human suffering, I came across a book, Journey Without Goal, by the Tibetan teacher, Chogyam Trungpa (1981). Most of the book seemed foreign and confusing to me, but one chapter (“Mandala”), made great sense. This chapter contained a picture of a Tibetan mandala, and Trungpa went on to explain what it symbolized: “Our relationship with the world of perceptions is called the outer mandala; our relationship with the world of the body is called the inner mandala; and our relationship with the world of emotions is called the secret mandala” (Trungpa, 1981, p. 31).

Most Tibetan mandalas have three circular boundaries contained within a circle. In the center is usually a symbolic deity that embodies the teachings of the mandala. The Tibetan Buddhist practitioner meditates on the mandala and his focus is to bring attention to the symbol at the center.

In Trungpa’s discussion of the mandala concept, he asserts that human beings are a living mandala. As we think about our own lives and the world around us, the three boundaries of the mandala are apparent and we can see how they influence each other. The “outer mandala” represents our sense perceptions of the external world. (In Tibetan Buddhism, “thinking” is a sense). The “inner mandala” stands for our actual bodies and how they can influence our perceptions and reactions to the world — including how we act with our bodies in terms of mannerisms, touch, speech, and so on. The “secret mandala” is our inner world of emotions and all the energies associated with it. The last boundary or mandala, contains the universe or world at large.

At the same time as reading Trungpa, I came across the teachings and theories of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. Jung’s book, “Man and his Symbols” (1987) and Joseph Campbell’s,


“Power of Myth” (1991) seemed to link with Trungpa. In Jung and Campbell, the mandala was a major theme. The ideas of the three authors complimented each other. Each thinker seemed to be writing about a universal theme found throughout many cultures and throughout the centuries. Mandalas, of course, have origins in some of the very first cultures unearthed by anthropologists.

As Jung sees it, “The symbol of the mandala has exactly this meaning of a holy place, a temenos, to protect the centre. And it is a symbol, which is one of the most important motifs in the objectification of unconscious images. It is a means of projecting the centre of the personality from being drawn out and from being influenced from outside” (Jung, 1976, p.179).

Here’s how Joseph Campbell described the mandala in an interview with PBS’ Bill Moyers:
“CAMPBELL…you try to coordinate your circle (mandala) with the universal circle (mandala).
MOYERS: To be at the center?
CAMPBELL: At the center, yes. For instance, among the Navajo Indians, healing ceremonies are conducted through sand paintings, which are mostly mandalas on the ground. The person who is to be treated moves into the mandala as a way of moving into a mythological context that he will be identifying with- he identifies himself with the symbolized power. This idea of sand painting with mandalas, and their use for meditation purposes, appears also in Tibet. Tibetan monks practice sand painting, drawing cosmic images to represent the forces of the spiritual powers that operate in our lives.
MOYERS: There is some effort, apparently, to try to center one’s life with the center of the universe-


CAMPBELL: . . . by way of mythological imagery, yes. The image helps you to identify with symbolized force. You cannot very well expect a person to identify with an undifferentiated something or other. But when you give it qualities that point toward certain realizations, the person can follow”. (Campbell 1991, p. 217)

The Mandala-Its Meaning and Use in Psychology

In this next section, I will further explore the concept of the mandala and how it has influenced individuals in terms of a universal archetype with important psychological aspects. I also will examine how the mandala helped me on my personal journey as a therapist. Lastly, I will provide two clinical examples in which the concept of mandala has proved useful for the clients in therapy.

To repeat, I am more comfortable as a visual learner. In reading the three books by Trungpa (1981), Jung (1987), and Campbell (1991), the pictures of mandalas (especially Tibetan and Native American) especially drew my attention. The main concept of a mandala is that of a sacred circle. The Sanskrit word for mandala literally is, “circle”. What this circle represents may differ from culture to culture, but a main theme seems to arise repeatedly. This main theme


concerns the representation/symbolization of how the individual (or “self”) exists in relation to the macrocosm of the universe. The “self” is most often positioned within the center of a mandala–which also seems to represent the micro (self) in comparison to the macro (universe/environment at large).

Mandalas have been used to depict this conceptualized representation of the universe in relation to the self (individual), or can aid the individuals to re-stabilize harmony and balance with their environment, emotional states, and the world at large. In the latter case, an individual attains healing and balance by constructing or meditating on a mandala.

Jung discovered mandala archetypes in his journey as a psychotherapist. Exploring his unconscious, Jung sketched his personal mandalas. He found that “each single mandala he drew was an expression of his inner state of being at that particular time. As his psychic state changed, so did the mandala he would sketch. He concluded that the mandala represented “Formation, Transformation, Eternal mind’s recreation ”. (Moacanin, 1986, pp. 27)

A quote from Jung’s work with mandalas strikes a common theme that many seem to experience:

“I had to let myself be carried along by the current, without a notion of where it would lead me. When I began drawing the mandalas, however, I saw that everything, all the paths I had been following, all the steps taken, were leading back to a single point-namely, to the mid-point. It became plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the center, to individuation”. (Carl Jung as cited by Moacanin, 1986, p. 28)


Louise Von Franz (1994) also describes a similar concept of mandala in her book, Archetypal Dimensions of the Psyche:

“The mandala can be in a circular or square form-the appearance is accompanied by inner balance and order. An image stands for the unity of the cosmos and the individual as well as for the meaning of all life. As such, it plays a crucial role in Eastern religions. From the empirical point of view, this center seems to be the core that regulates the equilibrium of our psychic systems; from this core, the healing and ordering function of the unconscious arises. It is often perceived as the ultimate goal and fulfillment of life and gives religious experience, which resembles the satori of Zen Buddhism”. (p. 250)

Rob Preece (2006), a psychotherapist and Tantric Buddhist practitioner, also discusses the therapeutic process of mandala visualization as a self-transforming technique in his book, “The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra”:
“In the generation stage (with the visualization practice on Tibetan mandalas), a practitioner cultivates a visualized form of self as a person and/or deity standing within an intricately detailed mandala. This self-transformation is repeated time and again, day after day, for long periods. With continuous practice, the power of visualization develops sufficiently to be able to maintain awareness of the mandala’s complexity for a long time”. (p. 97)

I had similar impressions and reactions as these scholars when contemplating the mandalas. But Trungpa (1981), it seemed to me, had more depth to his discussion of the


symbolic and psychological meanings of Tibetan mandalas. Trungpa’s excellent interpretation of eastern mandalas for the western mind has affected me profoundly. I found especially influential his words on the symbolic content of the mandala.

Trungpa teaches that we all are living mandalas. Concerning what a “living mandala” is, Trungpa (1991) concludes in “Orderly Chaos” it is “a space to create a situation based on a territory or boundary. It depends on whether we relate with space as space or space as solid, or with boundary as space or the other way around” (p. 6).

The Use of Mandala as a Therapeutic Intervention

“Concerning mandala as a therapeutic tool-through, this process (interpreting information through patterns) develops complexities, these nevertheless manifest in terms of certain forms of styles, all kinds of them. We cannot actually make systematic predications as to exactly what is going to happen in this process and exactly what is going to happen in this process and exactly how it will work; we cannot study behavior patterns and put all the details down on an information sheet. However, there are rough patterns. The only approach seems to be to try


to the extent possible to perceive a generalized pattern without trying to interpret every detail. Therefore, to realize the mandala perspective at all, we need some kind of aerial point of view, a way of seeing the whole totally and completely. In order to have that, we have to be willing to give up the details and direction”. (Trungpa, 1991, pp. 122-123)

Here is how I translate these Tibetan teachings on mandalas into layman terms for therapy. I begin with a short introduction to clients on the use and concepts of a mandala, and then offer a personal interpretation by way of a visual representation. Next, I use a white board and draw a center. Following that action, I draw four consecutive circles around the center. I tell the clients to picture themselves at the very center, suggesting that the center is where the conscious and unconscious perceptions reside. I go on to describe the first circle as inner feelings that only clients know about, unless these are expressed to someone else.

The second circle represents the clients’ biological form. I explain about sensations within our bodies and how they can influence the first circle (the emotional and conscious/unconscious). The third outer circle, I continue, is the immediate environment around us, such as the room in which we sit. It is related to the other two circles and the clients’ center within the three circles. This outer circle represents our perceptions of the world around us. I also emphasize also that there are “environments” (work, school, home, and so on) which can influence the three circles of one’s mandala.

The fourth and last outer boundary is the “world at large.” If an event of global scale occurs affecting the world’s population, that environmental influence might also impact the three other circles (boundaries) and the “self” at the center of the mandala.

What I try to convey is that all four circles of the mandala influence one another and our personal center. Therefore, if one circle is out of balance, it will eventually affect all the


consecutive circles (boundaries) within our personal mandala experience/perception.

If one aspect of our mandala is out of balance, then usually all the other aspects are as well. So, I will ask clients if they see or can point to which part of their mandalas are most out of balance in relation to a problem they are having or how they are feeling that day. Joseph Campbell (1991) in his book “The Power of Myth “, mentions this technique in an interview about Jungian psychology and archetypes:

“In working out a mandala for yourself, you draw a circle and then think of the different impulse systems and value systems in your life. Then you compose them and try to find out where your center is. Making a mandala is a discipline for pulling all those scattered aspects of your life together, for finding a center and ordering yourself to it. You try to coordinate your circle with the universal circle”. (p. 216)

I do not ask clients to practice on Tibetan mandalas or to do intensive Buddhist meditation daily work on a mandala like other Tantric practitioners of mandala meditation. However, they most often go ahead and reflect on the concepts throughout the week. I find it helpful sometimes to have them mindfully practice how all the environmental factors might be influencing their personal experiences throughout the week.

Clients seem to respond well to the psychological tool of the mandala. Nevertheless, I make sure to use this approach with clients I feel are best fitted to using it as a perceptive tool. In my experience, some people will not respond to the approach of the mandala. Just like any therapeutic tool or intervention, the therapist should assess if it would be beneficial for the client by conducting a therapeutic client assessment, getting to know the client better through sessions,


and introducing the tool only with the proper foundation, all the while remaining alert to the client’s reactions. In my experience, clients who are right-brained types tend to gravitate to the concepts of the mandala. For the individuals who like to talk about and relate to metaphors within therapy, the mandala approach is extremely effective. In this regard, I will offer two case examples. Names are changed for anonymity.

Two Clinical Examples of the Therapeutic Value of the Mandala

Shelia is a client who came to me complaining of the “speediness” of her thoughts and problems with maintaining healthy boundaries. In addition, she was upset by experiences with authority figures that excited an impulsive anger within her. As time progressed, Sheila and I worked on transforming her anger by using the concepts of bodhicitta (inspirational practices to see the sufferings of others in relation to our own experiences of suffering), which I had translated into everyday layman terms.

This approach helped slow down her compulsive ruminations–concerning her anger, what she was going to do, or should do, and other thoughts that fueled her neurosis. We applied mindfulness techniques (such as recognizing discursive thought patterns and practicing mindfulness techniques like “touch and go” (Wegela, 2008) to separate Sheila’s emotions from her thought patterns.

Again, I introduced some Buddhist


teachings on how we can transform anger into compassion towards others by translating experiences of personal suffering into everyday language. Sheila responded well to this practice. She began to feel compassion for those she previously had only room for anger. She was able to separate her own projections and counter transference experiences as a result of our work on her anger and destructive emotional triggers. She also learned how not to react aggressively even when someone showed aggression towards her.

At one point, Sheila’s compulsive thinking returned. She returned to her previous concerns about others and to the conflict between her goals at school and her goals at work. She lost sight of what might be influencing her inability to discern what she could take on and what she could not. So, making use of my supervisor’s introduction to a similar concept—about environmental influences pictured as a circular graph with the client in the center—I decided to introduce the concept of mandala to Sheila. I took a white board and drew a center circle with four circles around it.

I asked her if she had any experiences with mandalas. She had not. Therefore, I explained the universality of mandalas in many different cultures, and she understood the general idea. Next, I used the drawing and told her about the concepts of outer, inner, and secret mandalas, but labeled them the world environment at large, the immediate outer environment, her bodily environment, and her inner emotional environment. I explained if one were influenced, so would be the others.

To illustrate, we took the example of Sheila’s struggles with work and school environments. She was battling with many authority figures in both realms. We looked at how her body experienced these realms. She commented on the high energy she experienced because of anger and the speeding up of thought that proceeded hand-in-hand with her battles. I asked


about her inner emotional states, and we found her anger fueled by sadness. This sadness had a connection to other individuals Sheila identified (based on her intuition) as victims of authority figures. She then traced some of her original feelings to psychological wounds suffered at the hands of her parents, who had taken advantage of Sheila emotionally and never assumed responsibility for their actions.

We chose to also reverse Sheila’s experiences in these realms by using the mandala to trace her inner emotional world to her bodily realm and to see how she projected her secret and inner mandala onto the outer mandala (though again, we did not employ that terminology). She seemed quite astounded by this process, and enjoyed the exercise.

As weeks went by, subtle changes in Sheila’s three environments occurred: she worked hard to care of herself physically and mentally, and she moved forward to change her home and work environments. We continued to focus on using boundaries and referred to them as the inner and outer circles of her experience (mandala).

Her commitment to therapy and changing her inner and outer worlds seems to have brought positive results. When things started to fall back into habitual patterns, we would resurrect the visualization process of the mandala to refocus and center any rising emotional chaos.

To succeed using these approaches, a person needs to be willing and committed to looking within her life and environment. The mandala concept can also be used in other ways. For Shelia, it helped in defining boundaries and mindfulness with her inner and outer environments. My therapeutic use of the mandala concept was quite different in another case I will now discuss.

Lisa came to therapy very anxious, depressed, and fearful. For the first time in her life, she was on her own, away from her family and birthplace. She had moved half way across the


country to live alone in a new city. She complained of heightened auditory senses, paranoia, and anxiety around others. However, her main complaint had to do with her inability to articulate her emotional states in a way that others might understand.

After a couple of sessions, we agreed that her transition from family and home to a new place without support was the cause of heightened fears, anxiety, and auditory senses. As therapy progressed, her heightened experiences and anxiety started to dissipate, but she still had a hard time finding the words to describe her emotional states.

Lisa would speculate, “Do I have an Attention Deficit Disorder problem?” In addition, she wondered if her difficulty focusing and feeling grounded enough to talk about her problems be a result of ADD? I disagreed with Lisa’s speculations, but did not share my disagreement with her at this point. I feared causing her more stress. She did not seem to have the tools and language necessary to talk about her problems with others. Nevertheless, in some sessions, we worked to analyze some of her most vivid dreams, and Lisa had some success talking about her problems in these sessions.

I decided that introducing the mandala principle in visual form might lead Lisa to better express herself and understand her inner and outer perceptual reality. I went through some of my personal collection of mandala artwork, and picked out several Tibetan and Western mandalas. These mandalas illustrated different states of mind and emotions. Some of these mandalas pictured archetypes of gods and goddesses, others illustrated wrathful and peaceful states of mind, and the remainder represented therapeutic mandalas used for calming techniques.

In our next session, I brought out all the mandalas, spreading them about the floor. I asked Lisa to examine them and first pick out those she felt depicted being calm and centered. Then I asked her to choose the mandalas that matched her negative states of mind. What transpired next proved illuminating for both of us. We found that what she selected for both


choices gave her a symbolic archetype to use for depicting states of mind. As a therapist, I gained good insight diagnostically into some important causes for her suffering. Mandalas she picked out that represented being calm and centered proved to be those that contained symbols and archetypes of nature (trees, birds, water, etc.). Mandalas representing her inner emotional chaos were crowded with perhaps too many symbols or had wrathful looking deities surrounded by fire. In the latter case, Lisa felt these mandalas represented “the fire of anger”.

From this point on, we now were able to focus on common everyday language and concepts. We could now use nature visualizations to restore calm and balance. At times, Lisa would imagine herself at the very center of a visualized mandala. I would have Lisa practice letting go of the other four consecutive boundaries as well as her worries and fears about how these boundaries were influencing her. This practice “grounded” Lisa when she felt overwhelmed or caught up in world crisis issues. We also now had a language of sorts for Lisa to express her emotional states, be it showing me a picture or using the words she gathered from viewing mandalas and describing what she saw. Therefore, for example, she used “fire” to describe the anger that she felt looking at mandalas picturing the wrathful deities.

Lisa greatly appreciated that our session had given her some visual tools for relaxation and grounding. She also recognized that she could move forward and improve her ability to discuss problems. I presented her with the three mandalas she valued most for calmness and grounding. I told her to put them up in places where she could use them in times of stress. I advised Lisa that when she felt hyperaware or anxiety ridden, she should use the mandalas. “But what about when I am at school and feel anxious?” Lisa asked me. We decided that she should take one of her favorites, and fit it into the sleeve of her notebook. She could use it as a visual reminder or tool to reference when she felt anxious at school. So far, Lisa reports this device has


proved most helpful. Our session with mandalas even inspired her to find and bring in other pictures and artwork from magazines. She used these to help explain and talk about her weekly processing of experiences. Lately, we have moved away from using these tools, because Lisa has found her voice. She now talks more openly about her emotional states and the problems she may be experiencing.

I did not need to introduce the boundaries of mandalas with Lisa in the same way as I did with Sheila. However, if needed, the approach taken with Lisa could be quite useful and beneficial in Sheila’s case. She is a visually expressive personality and a strong dreamer. The uses of archetypes, symbols, and mandalas have worked quite nicely in our therapeutic sessions. Eventually, I would like Lisa to design and draw her own personal mandalas. I believe these drawings would enhance her continued emotional expression, as well as her discussions of personal goals and outcomes. Lisa might well find a way to “talk” about her problems when she struggles to find the words necessary to do so.


As we can see, the mandala principle is an intimate part of the Western psychology lineage of Jungian psychologists and within the Eastern Buddhist cultural framework. In the case of the Contemplative Psychotherapist, a much deeper introduction to the therapeutic usefulness of the mandala results from the maitri room experience.

The Maitri Rooms Mandala

With each meditation retreat, the Contemplative Psychotherapist acquires new and more substantial information and training in regards to the “maitri mandala”. At the first retreat, orientation information precedes an introductory experience in the rooms. At the next retreat, more information is presented before and following the experience within the maitri rooms. This


information deals with the symbolization of the neurotic and sane sides the maitri mandala represents. At a final retreat, by reading and meditating on teachings from The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Fremantle & Trungpa, trans., 1974), the therapist learns how each room of the living maitri mandala connects to the death-dying-birth cycle.

Rather than reading about a mandala or briefly being introduced to it in Western psychological terms, the therapist has the opportunity to experience a living mandala by practicing meditation within the maitri rooms. In my experience, it is far more powerful to engage in a ritual rather than reading about it. Merely reading about the concepts of mandala, or using it in a Jungian therapeutic sense may be somewhat limiting for the training of a Contemplative Psychotherapist. But why is there this difference?

In my opinion, experiencing these living maitri rooms rather than reading or being taught about them affords unique insights and experiences. Chogyam Trungpa and Suzuki Roshi (a Japanese Zen Roshi Master) originally constructed these rooms because they had many people showing up at their meditation centers in distress from psychosis or mental illness.

Trungpa and Suzuki came up with the idea of creating the mandala maitri rooms as a possible stabilizing experience for these people in distress. Unfortunately, Trungpa and Suzuki found in many cases that the maitri rooms only increased the states of psychosis. Later, Trungpa and others agreed that perhaps the rooms might be more useful to those working in the mental health field if they experienced the rooms as individuals.

Individuals within the rooms might better glimpse the neurotic energies produced by the yogic positions (meant to cause irritation) within rooms constructed with a mindful placement of windows and specially selected color schemes. As time progressed, Trungpa and Suzuki found it beneficial for therapists, mental health workers, and others to experience and practice in these rooms. These
professionals would be in a better


position to gain understanding and insight that might inform and enhance their work with clients. In Western psychology, the uses of mandalas should not be discounted, either.

Clients who draw or find pictures of mandalas can often express hidden emotional worlds as well as center and regulate conflicting emotions (see the discussion above of my two clinical examples). I have found it most exciting to use these techniques with clients. In addition, through research and supervision, I discovered with equal excitement that the techniques have been used for centuries to aid in psychological-spiritual health.

Carl Jung, and even Sigmund Freud (though seemingly only in dream archetypes), used the general idea of the mandala in their psychotherapy practices. I need not go into the process and history behind Jung’s methods and how he came to apply them at this point. However, it is interesting how Jung’s work and writings feature the concept of the mandala. This archetypical analysis continues in the world at large through the work of Spiritual teachers, in-depth psychotherapists, transpersonal psychologists, and now, I believe, Contemplative Psychotherapists.

Though Contemplative Psychotherapy does not make a prominent place for archetypes, it has been influenced through contact with Tibetan Buddhist culture. Of course, Tibetan Buddhist culture has employed archetypes to illustrate teachings for over 2, 500 years. I would like to expand my knowledge of these archetypes so I can translate them into universal archetypes and a language to which my clients will respond. I realize my techniques and methods are nothing new, but sophisticationing and refining their structure and use promises an effective therapeutic approach.

I have found a wonderful bridge between Western and Eastern psychology for the benefit of my clients and a wonderful ongoing educational practice and training modality for becoming a Contemplative Psychotherapist. My personal experiences with the maitri mandala, researching


the psychological uses of mandalas, and experimental use of the mandala principle with my clients has opened an exciting path to my future career.

Using the Tibetan Book of the Dead

“Now when the bardo of darmata dawns upon me, I will abandon all thought of fear and terror, I will recognize whatever appears as my own projection and know it to be a vision of the bardo; now that I have reached the crucial point I will not fear the peaceful and wrathful ones, my own projections!” The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Fremantle & Trungpa, trans., 1974, p. 40)

The final Naropa retreat found me once again meditating in the calm stillness of the buddha room. It seemed as if I had come full circle in my personal journey as a therapist, but more so concerning my ongoing relationship with the Tibetan Buddhist culture. Befitting the occasion, as part of this last gathering, my classmates and I were reading and contemplating The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Fremantle & Trungpa, trans., 1974). —one of the first books I came across exactly twenty-four years ago.

I remember even so long past decorating my rooms with the images of peaceful and wrathful deities and contemplating their meanings. The images and Tibetan artwork fascinated me. I tried my best to read and understand the book, but its full meaning lay beyond my reach.

Nevertheless, the images, archetypes, and symbols I discovered captured my imagination and stayed with me years down the road. The book I had found at random, now would symbolize the educational journey of my classmates and I towards a future career as therapists. A reading and study of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Freemantle & Trungpa, trans., 1974) would also mark the ending of our experience as a group.

The maitri rooms took on another deeper meaning and significance for me. These rooms represented the stages of death, dying, and rebirth. This living representation of a mandala, like so many other Tibetan mandalas, held an even deeper meaning at this time. We learned that each


of the rooms also represented the “in between stages” or bardos described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead—something I had suspected while spending time reading in preparation for the retreat. I looked forward to seeing what might unfold for me during my return to the maitri rooms.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Freemantle & Trungpa, trans., 1974) describes several stages that the Buddhist practitioner will experience when their body dies.

The Tibetans believe that our basic consciousness survives after death and we will experience realms of fear, desire, and bliss. The book describes what may possibly happen in a day-by-day experience before we are forced or choose (depending on our spiritual work in this life) rebirth in another form. This rebirth might take the form of an animal, spirit being, deity, or human entity. Rebirth depends on our previous karma in a lifetime, the cause and effect of our actions.

Sitting in the buddha room, again I experienced the state of space and light. Perhaps I was experiencing the empty “luminous mind” state described in many of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings. Could this be the basic state of mind always accessible to us? Could this be a universal, truthful reality experience all human beings can share?

I believe we experience this state as babies entering this world, our minds free from cultural, social, and parental imprintation. When we may be in the pre-developmental stage, before we are taught a cultural identification through the speech, symbols, and archetypes of our society. It is the “blank page” or “blank canvas” we may experience before the suffering and pleasurable experiences occur that will possibly shape our personalities for a lifetime. These experiences, which may cause a person suffering in this lifetime, also are those that impel individuals to seek therapy.

In the buddha room, I also wondered if the state of mind I have described is what we


return to at death. It might be as if we were watching a film of our lives, seeing and feeling the “good and bad” experiences, we had. It warns us, though, that the images and memories might be only projections upon what lies behind experience—that basic, luminous state of emptiness (the blank canvas).

We must recognize that in life as in death, we are always attempting to maintain or control reality by projecting our constructed existence on that blank canvas or on the experience of pure borderless space/emptiness. Only by such recognition can we obtain a peaceful state of mind in life and in our parting from this world.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Freemantle & Trungpa, trans., 1974) describes persons being exposed to images and memories from this lifetime, both peaceful and wrathful, when nearing death. We are warned, however, that the images and memories might only be projections upon what lies behind experience—that basic, luminous state of emptiness (the blank canvas).

We must recognize that in life as in death, we are always attempting to maintain or control reality by projecting our constructed existence on the experience of space/emptiness. Only by such recognition can we obtain a peaceful state of mind in life and in our parting from this world.

“O son of noble family, now has the time come for you to seek a path. As soon as your breath stops, what is called the basic luminosity of the first bardo, which your guru has already shown you, will appear to you. This is the dharmata, open and empty like space, luminous void, pure naked mind without centre or circumference, recognize then, and rest in that state, and I too will show you at the same time”. The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Fremantle & Trungpa, trans., 1974, p. 35)

Perhaps salvation from suffering is always available in the here and now by transcending our projections and ego the best we can through the spiritual and rational employment of Buddhist tools and methods. Or perhaps through the help of a therapist, spiritual teacher, parent


or friend, we can access a primary original state of mind—the “luminous emptiness” found in Buddhist teachings on the maitri mandala. The mandala teaching requires a person to empty their thoughts, projections, emotions, and physical sensations in order to fully experience its meaning.

I also realized that we eventually need to let go of the mandala principle. We need to let such concepts return from where they arose in the first place–emptiness. Are not mandalas a projection upon reality as well?


Observing how the mandala, as a therapeutic tool and therapeutic intervention, has helped alleviate the suffering of my clients is exciting and inspiring. On reflection, I find that anxiety ridden therapist at the very start of his internship worthy of quite a humorous anecdote.

All I needed was to let go and settle into trusting my experiences with Buddhist teachings and believing in my training as a Contemplative Psychotherapist. The mandala principle eventually emerged as an important tool for working with my clients and as a wonderful training method for becoming a Contemplative Psychotherapist.

Now at the end of my journey at Naropa as a therapist, as a practitioner of Buddhist techniques that compliment my spiritual path and therapeutic techniques, I am greatly appreciative of the Buddhist teachers who brought us the experience of a living mandala. Through this teaching, I have learned about a living Buddhist archetype filled with symbolic teachings and real life experiences. The teachings will continue to shape me as a therapist and as a human being.

My study at Naropa has helped, as well, to free me from personal suffering. I can begin to understand how my learning translates to Western psychology, through Jungian techniques, art therapy, mandala therapy, among many other modalities. The mandala principle is universal in


all cultures. I realize the mandala principle is but one method, one drop in an ocean of universal teachings and techniques that can help alleviate the suffering of others and our own. To discover that others in the fields of Eastern and Western psychology have had similar experiences to mine as therapists and have helped lay the foundation for future therapists is particularly exciting to me.

Finally, in a world full of war, chaos, and suffering, it is inspiring to know that such methods and modalities are accessible to a wide range of human beings. To realize that the archetypes and symbols arising out of human unconsciousness are found in all cultures gives me hope as a therapist and a global citizen. If we as therapists and spiritual practitioners can preserve and translate Tibetan Buddhist teachings for the benefit of future clients, generations, communities, and for the world community at large, then perhaps little by little, person by person, we can help address the universal suffering of humanity.



Arguelles, J. & M. (1972) Mandala. Berkeley, CA: Shambala Publications, Inc.
Campbell, J. (1991)
The power of myth with Bill Moyers. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Evans, J., Shenpen, A., Townsend, P.(2008) Maitri space awareness: Developing the therapist within. In F.Kaklauskas, S. Nimanheminda, & M. Jack (Eds.), Brilliant sanity (pp. 195-211).Colorado Springs, CO: University of the Rockies Press.
Freemantle, F., & Trungpa, C. (trans.) (2000). The Tibetan book of the dead: The great liberationfrom hearing in the bardo by Guru Rinpoche according to Karma Lingpa. Boston, MA:Shambhala.
Jung, C, (1987) Translated by R.F.C. Hull, In H. read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, W. & McGuire(Eds.), The symbolic life. Vol. 18, Princeton University Press. Moacanin, R. (1986) Jung’s psychology and Tibetan Buddhism: Western and eastern paths to the heart. London, England: Wisdom Publications.
Preece, R. (2006) The psychology of Buddhist tantra. New York, NY: Snow Lion. Trungpa, C. (2000) Journey without goal: The tantric wisdom of the buddha. Boston, MA:
Shambhala. Trungpa, C. (1991) Orderly chaos: The mandala principle. Boston, MA: Shambala. Von Franz, M. (1994) Archetypal dimensions of the psyche. Boston, MA: Shambala.

%d bloggers like this: