Journey into the Mandala

Sep 03, 2023




Dear Friends, 

In less than a month a group of thirty pilgrims will venture to the largest mandala on the planet led by Geshe Tenzin Zopa and myself. What is the backstory behind this pilgrimage? What is the meaning of the mandala? And what do we plan on doing there?

If you’ve been following my journey, you’re aware that I set off for Bali in 2021 amidst the pandemic for a six-week discovery. After a brutal, mask-wearing, 26-hour flight and a lengthy one-week quarantine, I finally made it. Within days I was under the care of local legend Tjok Gde Kerthyasa, an alchemist, who I affectionately dubbed the Wizard of Bali.

Our island adventures are chronicled in my new book "Return with Elixir," as we summit a sacred mountain, submerge ourselves in holy springs, and dream up a new vision of the future while sipping tea in his medicinal garden.

During my six-week pilgrimage, immersed in the writing of Elixir, I turned myself over to the unconscious and let myself be led into the labyrinth by mystery, prophesy, astrology, and mythology. What emerged was a succession of synchronicities, including a gravitational pull towards the Borobudur mandala in Java for a historic ceremony with enigmatic origins.

According to the tantric traditions of India and Tibet, the mandala is a symbol of two interrelated phenomena, the cosmos, and the psyche, and is a tool used to mediate energies according to the principle, “as above, so below.” As a celestial palace within a harmonized universe, the mandala is a perfected environment, an abode of a deity, a womb pregnant with possibilities, which one visualizes inhabiting during meditation. The mandala is also an inner environment, a perfected mind and body, where our fundamental Buddha nature, innately open and luminous, is transformed into the deity itself, bringing a future, distant enlightenment, into the present moment.

For Carl Jung, the mandala was a universal archetype of the collective unconscious, a circular symbol of balance and unity, appearing throughout history and within all cultures. In this context, the mandala is a crucible for the union of opposites, our divine and human natures, masculine and feminine energies, heaven and earth, sacred and profane, the unacceptable, exiled shadow brought into relationship with the mystical, numinous Self, creating a higher order integration. For Jung the main drive of the psyche was not the pleasure principle, nor the death instinct, nor the biological imperative for reproduction, but the timeless, spiritual urge towards wholeness and authenticity.

Tantric traditions and Jung alike discuss a pilgrimage towards the mandala, actually or metaphoric, that begins by circumambulating the periphery of the circular sacred structure, navigating its interior, and culminating at its center. A stellar example of this process is open to the public in the 13th century labyrinth at the famous Chartres Cathedral in France. 

To reach the center of the labyrinth you must first be willing to get lost, wonder in all directions, face obstacles and impasses, retrace and correct your missteps, stumble, fall, and realign again, all the wiser. Eventually you cover the entire complex, north, south, east, and west before reaching the center. The Chartres labyrinth is an external or physical mirror for the inner pilgrimage of the Self, or of enlightenment, where all aspects of the psyche must be known, the shadow assimilated, the collective legacy re-membered, opposing forces of virtue and vice, masculine and feminine, integrated, and where latent power is discovered and harnessed at the midpoint of the mandala.

By the time you have circumambulated the periphery and navigated the entire terrain of your own psyche, every nook and cranny, you have grown more self-aware, and confident, and can finally claim that elusive sense of wholeness you were looking for all along. 

The spiritual path is not linear, straight forward, or neatly paved. Adversity is necessary to hasten our evolution. Pilgrimage is a disruptive (of consensus reality and of ego) journey that ensures we’re a different person when we return home, possessing a treasure to offer others as a result of our trail.

The mandala is a matrix, a loom, upon which all contrasting and disparate threads of our being, including those unbeknownst to us, for better and for worse, are woven into a single tapestry. So, what will we being doing at the Borobudur mandala when our pilgrimage group arrives there this September?

First, we will circumambulate and make offerings along its enormous periphery, some 400 feet on each of its four sides, and over a hundred feet tall. The temple consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, symbolic of the multi-dimensional reality within Buddhist and Hindu cosmology. As pilgrims ascend the walkways and staircases, they pass 2,672 stone relief panels depicting the lives of the Buddha and precious wisdom teachings in pictorial form. Borobudur is a library and reliquary of sacred knowledge designed to guide the pilgrim towards awakening as they make their way through the structure.

504 Buddha statues adorn the monument, with 72 at the top. This number 72 has astrological significance, it marks a one-degree shift in the precession of the equinoxes along the cosmic cycle of the Great Year, a 24,000-year celestial circumambulation. Just as the pilgrim circumambulates and makes her way up through the levels towards the summit, embodying the psychodrama of gradual awakening, so too is the microcosm reflected in the macrocosm - the grand procession of the stars – descending into a Dark Age (Kali Yuga) over 12,000 years, and then ascending to a Golden Age (Satya Yuga) over another 12,000 year span.

Finally at the top of the mandala, the group will engage in a historic ceremony. Following my own unconscious process, I had a vision of a joint ritual nearly a year and half ago. It involved my teacher Geshe Tenzin Zopa and a local wisdom keeper, bringing together the twin tantric traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism and Javanese Shivaism after a long period of separation and disavowal, and performing a ritual that devotees of the great Majapahit kingdom once practiced here at the Borobudur nearly five centuries ago. The religion of the Majapahit was a syncretic form of tantra known as Shiva-Buddha agama, a unique blend of two traditions that emerged solely in the Indonesian archipelago. Following the Islamic incursion, Shiva-Buddha was almost entirely wiped out, the Shiva tradition was transported and preserved in nearby Bali where Hinduism blended with indigenous animism.

My unconscious is pushing towards wholeness, a reintegration of what has been lost, reuniting two twins separated at birth, after a long period of darkness. What better place to perform such a ritual than the largest mandala in the world, the quintessential symbol of unity, and what better time than now, amidst the collective archetype of death-rebirth, whilst the world is overcome by darkness, division, polarization, and fragmentation. Now is the time to acknowledge and celebrate diversity within a larger, more harmonious unity. By participating in this ritual we will affirm our aspiration and vow to manifest a better world.

Follow along on my Instagram as a #virtualpilgrim mid September as I bring you on a journey into the mandala.

All best wishes,


Dr. Miles Neale

email: [email protected] 



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