Mandala as integration of the conscious and unconscious

Mandala of Vishnu, from Nepal From the Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection. US public domain via wikimedia.
Mandala of Vishnu, from Nepal From the Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection. US public domain via wikimedia.

In the image above we see a Vishnu mandala. In his commentary on the Kena Upanishad, 8th century CE philosopher Adi Shankara makes it clear that Vishnu is an image or form of the supreme Self (Brahman) [1]. The Vishnu mandala above is also an expression of the supreme Self.

In his essay on the Mandala, in the The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung speaks of the mandala motif. Jung says that the mandala is “the psychological expression of the totality of the self” (CW 9, para 542). In other words, the mandala is a representation of the Self.

With this, Jung realized the Self as a wholeness that extends beyond the ego.

“This centre is not felt or thought of as the ego but, if one may so express it, as the self” (ibid)

Yet, for Jung the Self is simply the totality of psychic life. It is as if Jung took the cosmic nature of the Self and made it fit into the bounds of the personality. Nonetheless, Jung speaks to the Self as “a kind of central point within the psyche, to which everything is related, by which everything is arranged, and which is itself a source of energy.” Jung is on point here.

The Self is a central point, in which everything is related, from which everything emerges. This central point is the source of all. Yet, the Vedic realization is that the Self is cosmic, expanding beyond the personality, beyond even the collective to encompass all. This is the cosmic meaning of ‘wholeness.’

Jung uses the term energy, and in other places he calls it ‘libido’, the ‘vital force’, or even the ‘creative force.’ (see CW 5, para 425).  In the Vedic realization, the vital force is Prana or Agni, a living force beyond the personality. Jung understood that this energy expresses as “almost irresistible compulsion and urge to become what one is.” Jung says:

“The energy of the central point is manifested in the almost irresistible compulsion and urge to become what one is just as every organism is driven to assume the form that is characteristic of its nature, no matter what the circumstances”(ibid).

Jung is speaking of an instinct to reach our potential, to Self-actualize: to “become a self.” (Cw 12, para 105). Jung’s use of the Self always has a psychological flavor; everything happens in psychic life, making up the “total personality.” Jung continues:

“Although the centre is represented by an innermost point. It is surrounded by a periphery containing everything that belongs to the self-the paired opposites that make up the total personality” (ibid).

It is within psychic life, within the personality that the paired opposites emerge. It is within the personality that the conscious and unconscious forces (collective forces) make themselves known. Jung continues:

“This totality comprises consciousness first of all, then the personal unconscious, and finally an indefinitely large segment of the collective unconscious whose archetypes are common to all mankind” (ibid).

Jung calls the unconscious a the “field of experience of unlimited extent”. Jung (CW 7) says that the unconscious has at its disposal “all the subliminal psychic contents, all those things which have been forgotten and overlooked, as well as all the experience of uncounted centuries laid down in its archetypal organs” (p.196).

For Jung, Self-realization is a process of tuning into and integrating the conscious and the unconscious. This is Carl Jung’s way of understanding the mandala motif and the Self, as representing an integration of the conscious and the unconscious aspects of the personality. Of course, the ‘true nature of the Self’ in a cosmic sense is much more.



  1. Shankara says: “somebody other than the Atman, such as Vishnu, Ishvara, Indra or Prana is entitled to be worshiped”…. “So says the Sruti [most authoritative, ancient religious texts], know this Atman to be the Brahman, unsurpassed.” (comment on Verse 4 of the Keno Upanishad)
  2. If we are to center the supreme Self within the ego, then we have not realized the truth nature of the Self. We are likely to end up with what Jung called ‘ego inflation’ (CW 8, para 176).


  1. Two essays on analytical psychology  (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol. 7)
  2. Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works of C. G. Jung Volume 5)
  3. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)
  4. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche
    (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol. 8)