Below is a mandalic depiction of the shadow side of the American way of life, drawn by my friend Darrin Drda, author of The Four Global Truths: Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our Times. It is modeled after the Tibetan Buddhist Bhavacakra (a mandalic depiction of samsara). Darrin’s description of the various realms is below the drawing.
What follows is a description of my mandala, again from the inside out. At the hub of the wheel appear a dollar bill, a tank, and a television, representing the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion (these exist institutionally as materialism, militarism, and the media). Just outside the central circle is the ring of financial karma, in which people slowly climb the ladder to prosperity, only to slide back down into a hole of debt.
The main part of the mandala depicts the Six Realms of Socioeconomic Existence. At the top is theImperial Realm, in which ultra-wealthy beings live in mansions, ride in limousines, and suffer from arrogance, isolation, and the occasional bad hair day. Below and to the left of this realm is that of the Imperial Wannabes, who abide in sprawling suburban homes, drive expensive cars, and suffer from envy and existential angst. To the right of this realm is the Public Domain, populated by working class humans who live in modest homes, apartments, and trailers, and drive used cars. They speak highly of freedom while being severely constrained by desire, fixation, and fear. Many of them suffer from high blood pressure, low self-esteem, and bad credit. Lower on the ladder lies theAnimal Turf, wherein many creatures are subject to displacement, confinement, and cruelty on the part of humans. Some of them are kept as pets and often treated much better than beings in the adjacent Homeless Dimension. This realm is populated by nearly invisible “hungry ghosts” who wander endlessly in search of food and shelter. The lowest of all realms is the Hellish ‘Hood, the residents of which suffer from intense anger and psychological illness. Beings in this realm possess very little freedom, whether held captive in prisons, mental institutions, or army barracks.
The outer wheel depicts the Twelve Steps of Codependent Consumerism. The sequence begins and ends with shopping, an activity which leads directly to the accumulation of material objects. Possessing lots of stuff leads to the need for a “stuff storage facility,” commonly called a house and usually located outside of town. This necessitates having a motorized vehicle with which to transport one’s person, groceries, and additional stuff. Driving a car necessitates buying gas, which contributes to debt and the need to maintain employment. Working generates stress, which leads to an urgent desire for relaxation. This often involves consuming alcohol and/or watching television. Depressants, TV and advertising all contribute to a sense of lack or emptiness, symbolized here by a black hole. This feeling of worthlessness leads to an impulse to shop, which begins the cycle anew.
The Wheel of Suffering is held in the clutches of the aforementioned Uncle Samsara, the Lord of Illusion. This fearsome figure presides over a vast empire of desire, despair, death and taxes. Outside of this wheel lies liberty in the form of planetary consciousness, lunar consciousness, and compassion (symbolized by a green Tara). Ultimate freedom is found in the form of cosmic consciousness, wisdom and peace (symbolized by a meditating Buddha).
May all Americans, and all beings everywhere, be happy and truly free.