Generally, a mandala is not considered cultural appropriation if used respectfully. However, there are some instance in which it may not be considered okay to use them.
If you are using Buddhists symbols in gimmicky, trendy, mocking, or disrespectful ways, then you may be engaging in cultural appropriation.
However, if you’re using them in the ways intended and with due deference to Buddhist culture and beliefs, then most Buddhists will be okay with you using them.
What is a Mandala?
Mandalas are mesmerizing spiritual symbols in Buddhism and Hinduism. They are usually circular figures with stunning colors. Typically, they’re used as a focus for meditation or as a visual mantra.
Many people across the world appreciate the beauty of mandalas. Some people love decorating their houses with tapestries, while others love mandalas so much that they’ve decided to get them tattooed.
Culture appreciation is seeking to learn more about a culture and appreciating its aspects. In other words, cultural appreciation is understanding the culture and connecting with its people.
On the other hand, cultural appropriation is taking someone’s aspect of a culture that isn’t your own and making it your aspect and interest.
For example, let’s say someone puts on a certain piece of clothing that represents a culture they aren’t a part of. Whether it’s just to look unique or just as a fashion statement, that’s cultural appropriation.
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The answer to this question is a little complicated, as it depends on your intention when using mandalas.
For example, if you get a mandala t-shirt, tattoo, or tapestry, and you’re wearing it or hanging it just because it looks cool, that can be considered cultural appropriation.
However, if you understand the meaning of the mandalas and what they’re used for, that’s cultural appreciation.
Additionally, most of the mandalas tapestries you find online or in a local shop aren’t original mandalas that are used in practicing Buddhism.
Instead, they’re geometrical designs. Some of them may be inspired by original mandalas. However, they aren’t mandalas.
Moreover, if you have a true Vajrayana mandala, hanging it or wearing it is inappropriate.
There are many situations when using mandalas is cultural appropriation; for instance, using mandalas for the sole purpose of decoration.
You can appreciate the beauty of mandalas, but you need to respect the culture behind them. So, you shouldn’t use mandalas for decorations without knowing any of the meaning behind them.
Additionally, while you can appreciate the mandalas all you want, it’s culturally inappropriate to sell or recreate pieces of mandalas and sell them. That’s because you shouldn’t financially benefit from a culture you’re not a part of.
That also includes buying and selling mandala products, like clothes, tapestry, posters, and drawing books, to make financial profits.
Many other things can be considered Buddhism cultural appropriation, for instance:
- Buddha figures, drawings, tattoos
- Using Buddhist principles as jokes or catchphrases
- Using sacred objects for decorations
- Disrespecting sacred objects like mandalas
Buddhists don’t feel uncomfortable if you appreciate mandalas. In fact, it’s a good thing to appreciate someone else’s culture.
It feels like you want to understand that culture and connect with the people.
So, you should always treat mandalas respectfully. If it’s only a piece of art to you, it means a lot more to a big group of people. Cultures connect by learning, understanding, respecting, and sharing.
In other words, as long as you’re respectful and appreciative, you won’t be doing anything wrong.
Generally speaking, most Buddhists won’t care if you hang a mandala-like tapestry in your living room. As long as you’re not mistakenly representing their culture, they won’t have a major interest in your situation.
Additionally, many abstract or geometrical designs get mistaken for mandalas just because they’re circular-shaped. So, there’s a chance that the mandala you’re using isn’t an actual mandala, and there’s nothing to worry about.
The first step to avoiding cultural appropriation is to research and learn about the culture.
So, if you truly appreciate this piece of culture, learning about what mandalas mean to Buddhism is the first step you should take.
The second step is not to be afraid to ask. If you’re unsure about a certain activity regarding a certain culture, you can find many online communities that’ll be more than happy to help you understand their culture.
In fact, people of that culture will respect your approach and the fact that you don’t want to present their culture mistakenly.
Abstract and geometrical art pieces that look like mandalas (but don’t claim to be mandalas) aren’t usually considered cultural appropriation.
So, you can wear them, hang them, or do whatever you like with them as long as they aren’t claimed to be “true mandalas.”
Additionally, you can’t claim that they’re mandalas. That would be cultural appropriation as well.
Whether mandalas are cultural appropriation entirely depends on your intention. If you appreciate the culture and you understand what mandalas are used for, that isn’t cultural appropriation.
However, using mandalas to make a fashion statement, for decoration, or to make a financial profit is cultural appropriation. Similarly, if you want to look like you have a connection with the culture or claim to be a part of it, that is also cultural appropriation.
So, as long as you’re not claiming to have a connection with a culture that you’re not a part of and you’re appreciative and respectful, you can enjoy the beauties of mandalas all you want.