Mandalas at National Academy of Sciences

Mandalas take many forms. These circular representations of the Universe are most well developed in Buddhist and Hindu traditions, but they also appear in other realms, some of them quite unexpected. Jung thought that the mandala was an archetype, “the psychological expression of the totality of the self,” a interesting interpretation, albeit one that is perhaps at odds with the self-transcendent meaning seen by many others.

Two mandalas converged in National Academy of Sciences building on the Washington Mall last week. I brought one of them, embedded in the words of The Forest Unseen. I discovered the other mandala as I entered the building and looked up. The dome of the Academy’s Great Hall is representation of the totality of science, with the words “Ages and cycles of nature in ceaseless sequence moving” scribed on its inner rim. Do I hear an echo of Buddhist impermanence here in a space opened in 1924 as a “Temple of Science“?

NASMANDALAAt the center: the sun. Around: symbols of the various divisions of early Twentieth Century science (information theory, quantum mechanics, and genomics are missing, among others). The artwork was created by Hildreth Meière, one of the most prolific and honored of the Art Deco  public artists, and one of America’s most lauded mosaicists. For this project she used tile painted with hot gesso, producing a luminous, textured surface.

For better photos than my cameraphone shot above, see the NAS’s flickr page. NAS also has some excellent information about the meanings of the various elements in the design. If you have an iPad, you can get an app that walks you through the symbolism of the dome, a joy that is not yet available to the unpadded.

As I walked into the building to receive the book’s award and to talk about the forest mandala, my sweaty-palmed tension was eased a little by Meière’s mandala. Science and mandalas can, perhaps, be in fruitful conversation.

20 thoughts on “Mandalas at National Academy of Sciences

  1. Anonymous

    Congratulations on your award. May the circles you travel and contemplate widen, however small they first appear.

    Reply
  2. David Bird

    Nicely tied together, as ever. As for odds and self-transcendence, a message I take from your book is that the totality of the self can never stop at the body’s physical and psychological boundaries.

    Reply
  3. Karen Pick

    Congratulations! And thank you for providing an opportunity to spend an hour on a rainy Sunday morning marveling at the work of another remarquable artist!

    Reply
  4. Fountainpen

    I, too, ‘wonder as I wander’….
    and am full of gratitude that we
    are on earth at the same time
    for such a short time, such a short
    time, but oh! what we see
    and feel and experience.
    Thank you for all that you
    share!
    Fountainpen

    Reply
  5. mowque

    Talk about the world being bound together by the same small ideas….Very fitting that it was above you, of all people!

    Reply
  6. Wendy Jacobs

    The Forest Unseen stands out among the winners for its uplifting stories of hope and life. Science has many big rocks to push uphill. Nice that Science can also pause to sit on one, celebrate the knowledge, and enjoy the mystery.

    Reply
  7. Bruce Huber

    Visual descriptions of art, blended with science, touched with spirituality and love. I am describing both your book and the mandala above. Congratulations on your reward and award.

    Reply

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