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Representation over Significance – the Mandala transition

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Many weeks have passed where I have engaged and researched with the Tibetan Buddhists Sand Mandala and created an autoethnographic investigation spanning from watching videos where sand mandalas are being made by monks to looking at the transition the mandala has made from sand to skin relating to tattoo mandalas. This transition of the mandala that was once something spiritual changed it’s meaning through cultures. Where eastern culture presented a spiritual mandala to now where the mandala in the western culture has is seen as art as a pattern on the body. My project will be once again engaging in the autoethnographic experience of the mandala but making sense of it in a digital context. Meaning to what aspect would a mandala be made digital – in the form of a direct copy of the mandala, in the form of meaning that the mandala represents or a new change where something digital has the significance of what the mandala was and transitioned through cultures.

Looking at autoethnography I am following the meaning and approach presented by Ellis et al. who describes autoethnography as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”. While I will not be going over all of the information I presented in my past blogs relating to this topic – I will be going over enough in the hopes of making sense of my approach and method as a starting point. If you would like to read the previous posts, you can find them here, here and here.

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A Monk Mandala Source

The colourful visual appeal of Mandalas is one thing that attracted me to the topic. Then following research and the dedication the Tibetan monks have when constructing a Mandala my interest is further intrigued and I am in a focus of knowing everything about Mandalas and the people that create them. A Mandala has different meanings for different cultures and is represented in different ways though falls under the same discipline of religions sentiment. The Tibetan Monk Mandala represents the universe and the teachings of Buddha. Each concentric circle reflects a different teaching of Buddha and each quadrant is significant of the different paths one can take, or must take to fulfil Buddha’s teachings. This religious element is far from anything I have ever engaged in or thought I would want to learn about. Coming from an atheist family and not having religion forced upon me by my family (school is a different matter) I do not dismiss the value of these engagements nor question the engagement of the Mandalas. Religion much like spirituality is free for those that engage and I am not one to actively diminish those beliefs.

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Floor design for a Hindu temple Source

In other eastern cultures the religious context is apparent for mandalas but the details of the design and the way the design is used changes. In Hinduism the mandala is used by creating symmetry of the temples and art design on the floor of the religious temples and the use of sacred flora much like lotus flower is emphasized for use at it is symmetrical and reflects the detailed perfection that a mandala needs. The design on the floor is representative of the universe. In Islam the mandala is intertwined with the entire building from the floor to the roof. The religious impact of the Mandala becomes three-dimensional as the dome centred on the mosque guides religious expression upwards to the heavens. So the building is an entire mandala both in design and layout.

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Islamic Building Design Source

The transition of the mandala through the way it is implemented in these religions provides a step in understanding the change of the mandala through cultures. The representation of the mandala being quite broad – the universe, can be interpreted in a different way from each religion. Social groups play an important role in the transition of aspects from one culture to the next. Two or more people create a social group in which share traits and identities that create layers of discourse outside from other people. These identities are looked at from an outside perspective and tried to make an understanding from. Much like how I am outside the Buddhist religion looking in and through an autoethnographic approach I hope to better understand and make meaning out of what I have experienced and the way that I am experiencing it.

The branding of Mandalas as not just a religious statement but also an aesthetic statement transitions into western culture. Wilson and Liu discuss the blend between brands and culture. In regards to tattooing in western culture tattooing has transitioned from sub-culture into the mainstream, where it once was held as a religious exercise at religious ceremonies has become popularized for individual expression. This blend of what was once religious expression now individual expression, adding in the business of tattoos, the aesthetic appeal of a mandala and the popularity of tattoos in western culture. The mandala changed from a religious meaning to a personal meaning (personal meaning could still be religious) but also for aesthetic appeal of symmetry. Once the ideas of what western culture had to offer for tattoo art and design engaging then with other cultures and having that outside perspective gave way to new and more ideas and creations of tattoos. Which created more tattoos to choose from, created a bigger demand for tattooists and changed the meaning and how mandalas are represented once again. I did not fall short from this change of mandala representation as I got a mandala tattoo throughout the research and experience of learning about mandalas.

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Sand Mandala on the left; tattoo on the right. Source from my Prezi post linked above

There are many elements that can be compared between the sand mandala and the tattoo mandala. The detail, the time is takes to create, the experience needed by the person doing the creation and the discipline needed to make the creation work. I will be the first to say that there is an obvious distinction between a sand mandala on the floor compared to a tattoo mandala on the body and that the discipline of human ability on the tattoo exceeds the risk of the sand mandala. As if there is a mistake on the sand mandala it can be rectified in a simple fashion however with the tattoo it will cost money or cost the aesthetic appeal of the tattoo as the tattoo is a permanent fixture on the body.

Going from a religious sand mandala to a tattoo mandala went from eastern culture to western culture but there is a culture that expands both eastern and western and has a great influence on different aspects of eastern and western culture. I am of course talking about cyber culture (Saunders 2010). The internet has allowed the mandala to create a virtual space online in which people can engage with mandalas throughout the time before it. However, looking at the distinctions that the mandala has made through different cultures I would be arguing that the change the mandala has made has followed a different path dependent on what engagement of the mandala you would focus on. Looking at the mandala for what it is aesthetically and people wanting to create a mandala. Then there are websites and tools that aide in the creation. Such as the video below that guides people into how to make a mandala in Photoshop.


Stepping into cyber culture and creating a mandala based on the basis of a patterned and symmetric shape is one direction of what a mandala originally was. The meaning behind the mandala – that of religious meaning and expression is changed to the pseudo-religious behaviour that the internet is involved around. The behaviour is characterized by what elements cyber culture has created, the way they are created and the use for the creations. The mandala become a generic patterned shape that was used to describe any symmetrical and artistic piece in western culture. This loss of singular meaning can be described to many things that cyber culture has developed and used throughout the course of its inevitable usage.

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The generic shapes and patterns of the mandala Source

When it comes to cyber culture and the mandala I would add that the generic meaning of what a mandala has become and the elements that the internet creates changes the separate culture that the internet is. To argue that the ‘Meme’ is the equivalent of a generic mandala. Yep that is right I am now going to argue that ‘Memes’ are a reflection of cultural change and generic creation reminiscent of pseudo-religious beliefs and behaviour. Memes are a cultural aspect of cyber culture and the internet. From the start of the internet there have been different memes throughout its course that have been used in different ways by different groups of people to express thought and create interest.

‘Meme’ was first coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Meme was created to express a cultural idea that would spread quickly between people. Memes in basic form are words written over images that display some relation to the style of picture that is used – the Success Kid meme relates to the idea of someone experiencing some form of success in their life and Overly Attached Girlfriend is used to convey the experiences of having an overly attached girlfriend. The style of meme can change to a video or audio also. The engagement that memes have created over the years I find is a reflection of what the mandala did over the ages. When talking about the mandala it has become a generic piece of work in its aesthetic form but for what the mandala represented over though the cultures it went into changed it. The generic meaning and representation that a mandala has now is reminiscent of the cyber culture meme. While the religion on cyber culture and the internet is separated to specific religions such as Islam, Christianity and Hinduism the overall culture of the internet has made way for a more meshed engagement of behaviour and understanding.  The generic picture of a mandala and the generic picture of meme goes hand in hand with the change in the culture that it was once from and the change in culture that once used it.

My understanding of creating a digital mandala was limited by what the mandala represented to the monk and religious groups that used it. It was changed by the cultural transition from a religious symbol to a generic aesthetic art piece and then now changed aesthetically but kept to a generic piece in cyber culture. While there are different aspects of the mandala that can be used to argue different versions of the mandala have been created with in cyber culture. The transition of intent and purpose of cultural pieces plays an important role in the change from how one culture understands another and what aspects of that culture get changed for what purpose. Whether or not people were actively using the mandala as a tool for a generic description of tattooing or as a tool to showcase individualism. There is always going to be a change of cultural identities regardless of intent to appropriate the culture or not learn from it. While I did find the topic of Mandalas interesting the cultural change that the mandala has had from religious eastern culture to western tattoo culture to digital meme culture challenges the impact for what people get out of cultures. With how one identifier of one culture gets separated into visual appeal, meaning and, use and then distributed through different mediums to become something far different from what it once was.

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E. & Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no.1

Saunders, S 2010, ‘Superhighway To Hell’, Informationweek, no. 1271, p. 15.

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The Tibetan Sand Mandala – Part 2

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Drawing from the information and my experiences in Part 1 of watching a Tibetan Sand Mandala being made (YouTube clip here) I will use an ethnographical understanding presented by Ellis et al as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” to make sense of my understanding as well as an understanding of the Tibetan Sand Mandala. Ethnography is quite challenging in itself as it deals with first experiencing an aspect of another culture, making note of those experiences and then reflecting on those experiences and how those experiences affect you by looking at your own culture and why those aspects occurred to you. As research and understanding of my first experience has developed there are observations that I did not notice on the first or next viewings or even include in my Part 1 blog post.

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Screenshot from YouTube clip Sand Mandala Time Lapse

Looking at the final creation of the mandala as seen in the picture above I can’t help but feel that there would be a sense of pride by the monks who worked on the beautiful and intricate piece as mentioned in my previous post. With my understanding of pride and seeing people feel proud, there is a sort of satisfaction and happiness to know that an individual put in the time and effort to see a task be fulfilled and completed. An acknowledgement and personal satisfaction to see a task through such as feeling pride when completing a University assignment, finishing a job report or losing weight. In my search to understand why I would thing pride would be experienced I needed to put academic understanding to my opinion to formulate a cultural resolve. Salerno et al researched the significance of pride and the effects that it has on people. There are instances where an individual who feels pride can be a positive and/or negative thing. The positive being gratification and motivation but also a negative effect of pride is the constant sense of self accomplishment can be addictive, resulting in the repeated process of wanting to feel that same self-appraisal previously felt – there would be a constant struggle with in oneself to reach that same satisfaction.

Buddhism teaches that pride is an issue of self-importance and condemnation. As to have pride in oneself is to put one’s own importance or satisfaction above that of others. There is a need to let go of pride. There is a sense of entitlement when one experiences pride – an individual who finishes a task and feels satisfaction or self-appraisal splits the intention and motivation for that action with feeling and production. If someone was to not finish a task on time they would feel bad and this would affect their self-worth. When an emotion is put into an activity that activity has become a reflection of the capability and stature of the individual. There is also the Buddhist teaching that to feel pride is to put oneself above that of others – to have an ego. Oxford Dictionary defines ego as “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance” and “the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity”. Buddhism has the fundamental teaching that to put effort into one’s life for the intention of getting something in return is wrong. There should be no expectation or emotional fulfilment for what you do as is only creates disharmony on the individual and separates that individual from everyone else.

From what I see to feel pride in accomplishment, much like writing this blog, is to feel an aspect of an emotion. Those emotions are part of a larger array of emotions – so as to let oneself feel pride, one will also feel sadness, anger, fear, frustration, confusion and each has different variations. To allow oneself be warped into a sense of self-appraisal and commitment based on the results of one’s experiences condemns the individual to the entire array of emotions. These emotions cause us to lose control and lose our peace of mind. Though it is not to block out oneself to experiencing emotions that would bring a great sense of happiness, but to understand and be mindful of the situations that arise from one’s own life and act accordingly. As it is your own internal being that is the cause of unhappiness no one else’s.

Researching Buddhism and pride has led me to the personal understanding that there is a significant difference between the way I live and Buddhist teachings. As a current 25-year-old in 2016 my life is currently a constant reflection of what I have created and achieved – especially as a University student. My self-worth is dependent on what I do and how well I do it. If I fail something, then there is a part of me that stops everything and questions everything else that I am doing as if to say am I understanding what I am doing and am I doing it the right way. Much like this topic of the Sand Mandala it was my own choosing and my own understanding as to what I wanted to talk about and the areas that I wanted to focus on. With researching that pride is considered to be a negative feeling by Buddhist standards and that there is always an almost addiction to feeling pride it shows that in my personal experience both for what I see with others and for what I feel there is some unhappiness with the expectations with what others and I have to do. This observation would lead my interest and research on the mental health of university students but that is for a different post.

REFERENCES:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E. & Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no.1

Salerno, A, Laran, J, & Janiszewski, C 2015, ‘Pride and Regulatory Behavior: The Influence of Appraisal Information and Self-Regulatory Goals’, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 42, no. 3, pp. 499-514

That little click of passion .2 – State of Play Autoethnography

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Ellis et al defines autoethnography as “the approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”, with this in mind I will look back at my first evaluation of State of Play (found here) and analyze my experiences and understanding through academic research.

Beginning with Frederich Schiller’s quote, “Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays”, State of play deals with the contrast of E-Sports and cultural family traditions in South Korea. The impact of professional gamers challenges the perceptions of what it means to be successful and fulfilled. Seo details the changing characteristics of people who enter into professional gaming and also the audience who participates. The impact of something seen as a leisure (playing video games) to a job (professional gaming) adds value to the individual – their character and behaviour. The transition from once a consumer to a creator changes the ability of engagement on a more social and professional level.

I mention the emotional implications that I see when introducing money into gaming. The value of enjoying a game changes to a drive and expectation to succeed forced upon by the individual, the team (if a part of one) and management. There is a struggle of experience and relevance when it comes to wanting to be a professional gamer and even while being a professional gamer. The window to be a professional gamer has not been critically evaluated by can be estimated from 14 to 26 years old. Twenty-six is seen to be where cognitive function starts to fade and so the individual becomes slower and less valuable. Though to make it all that way is unlikely – as with entering into professional gaming you are a tool to be used for the benefit of the industry and you have little say on what the industry will do with you. When people of such a young age like Park Yo Han in State of Play try to enter Esports they are inexperienced and uneducated about contract negotiation and there is little to no job security. There is just fierce competition based on the game you are playing. The individuals need to look after themselves but also the group. If an individual does not maintain the capabilities that are replaced with hesitation, if a group does not perform then that are all let go. If a once highly sought team fails that get placed to a challenger tournament where they compete with up-and-coming teams to take their place (Hollist, 2015).

In State of Play – I noticed Park Yo Hans’ parents question the capabilities of his commitment to become professional. With limiting job security and a short time frame of being a professional gamer it is a justifiable cause. Kim et al mentions that South Koreans highly value togetherness and inter-dependency in families with a clear hierarchical role among family members. The visual showing of Park Yo Hans family sitting around the table talking about the future of Park’s career and what his parents hope for him shows that he needs to challenge the expectation from his parents and prove that what he really wants to do is something that he can dedicate himself to – unlike his studies.

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E. & Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no.1

Hollist, K.E. 2015, ‘Time to be grown ups about video gaming:the rising eports industry and the need for regulation’, Arizona Law Review, vol. 57, issue. 3, pp 823 – 847

Kim, H., Prouty, A., Smith, D., Ko, M., Wetchler, J. & Oh, J. 2014, ‘Differentiation of Self and its Relationship with Family Functioning in South Koreans’, American Journal of Family Therapy, vol. 42, no. 3, pp 257 – 265

Seo, Y 2016, Professional consumption and identity transformations in the field of esports, Journal of business research, vol. 69, no. 1, pp 264 – 272

That little click of passion – State of Play autoethnography

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Starting out with a quote from Fredrich Schiller, “Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays” State of Play encompasses the traditional and non-traditional aspects of being a young man wanting to get into E-sports in Korea. The hopes and dreams of being a professional gamer out-weighing the grounded expectations from family values and traditions.

 

 

State of Play follows young men currently in and wanting to get into the popular business of playing Star Craft professionally – a command and conquer style game where an individual builds up an army to destroy their enemy before they get destroyed.

Star Craft nor the idea of a ‘Gamer house’ is new to me – having being a fan of games and watching gaming tournaments. I have encountered groups of people who are organized to live together to practice their skills and achieve victory. However I feel the expectation of wanting to live in one of these houses, to be a professional gamer, conflicts with the amusement and enjoyment of playing video games. Once money has become involved and the idea of hours played on a video game turns from fun to an expectation, because your lively hood and title of ‘Professional Gamer’ is at risk, the emotional experience amplifies depending on how you perform. If you do not perform to the best of your abilities then you risk losing it all and questioning if you had done enough to stay relevant. Successful teams get sponsored and so make money for the people who own the team, this constant success opens the doors for more sponsors and creates a scenario for a successful business. The players become a product to be used, their abilities become a tool and expectation, if not reached then they are simply replaced. Quite the cut-throat scenario, but it holds true with the dedication and work that goes into being successful and to be called a ‘Professional Gamer’ – many people want to have the job but so few can.

State of Play brings up the family expectation for one of the guys involved – Park Yo Han. The conflict being that professional gaming is very competitive, as it should be only the best get to play. Parks’ family worry for him as they question his dedication to his games over his study at school. They question his commitment to wanting to play games as a career, as he doesn’t seem to be all that capable about dedicating himself to his studies. Parks’ parents question if Park can make this transition. I find this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do on behalf of the parents – by looking at the capabilities and personality of their son they question his future and want the best thing for him. There is a short window where people can be professional competitive gamers. Star Craft is reliant on how quick you can be with inputs, the faster you are the more you can do, the more you can do over your opponent, the better you chance on winning. As the years go on, dexterity of the fingers weakens and less inputs can be done – meaning you are slower and less likely to win. Therefor placing strain on winning games and needing to be replaced by someone younger who can make all the necessary inputs.

It isn’t just Korea that gets invested in E-sports. Star Craft who is run by the company Blizzard Entertainment has made many games that populate E-sports in America – such as Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm. I was curious as to how someone would go about getting into the business side of E-sports. As one may enjoy playing games, they may not be all that good at any game to get involved. So why not create a team of your own and enjoy watching the success of your team enjoy the success of winning.

Popular YouTuber Jesse Cox did just that. He enjoyed the game Heroes of the Storm but didn’t have the expertise to play the game at a high level to he created, organized and ran an E-sports team called the Stellar Lotus. However this endeavor wasn’t as easy as it seems. Getting involved took a lot of time, money and effort to get started and to maintain. Finding players who were capable of playing to a high level, them having the time to play the game at a professional level, paying for those players to spend the time to play the game, organizing a house for the members to live in to practice the game and create a team dynamic, investing time into getting the team into tournaments, trying to get sponsors, and dealing with all the conflicts that would rise. As Jesse Cox is a YouTuber he made a few videos detailing his frustration with running an E-sports team through a reflective learning, questioning if it is worth it and allowing the audience a little glimpse into the frustration that can happen. Called “The Salt” (for a good reason) here is his first video:

 

The personal and professional experiences seen in State of Play and The Salt show me that to be a part of professional gaming – leave the beginners behind take only the dedicated and committed to the arena of e-sports.