"Modern Mandala" - working title

Proposal for BIO50 by Pei-Ying Lin

In Buddhism, Mandala is the painting representing the universe/cosmos. The word originates in Sanskrit, which means “cosmogram” or “world in harmony”. For Tibetan tantric Buddhism, the mandala is drawn by monks using colorful sand during a ritual, and immediately destroyed when finished. The mandala is symbolizing all the living creatures and the gods, the origin of universe, and its immediate destruction signifies the impermanence of existence. The process of creating the mandala, which a person projects herself, other creatures, and the surrounding into the mandala, will help to purify their images, and to understand the essence of them in a highly balanced image.

And I can’t help to think what will a modern mandala be like. Which material are we going to use to create it? What will be the symbols representing everything of the universe as we know. How can the mandala reflects our relationship and our projection of the universe nowadays?

Now is a highly inter-connected decade, we have built up very complicated infrastructures and organisations that facilitates the day to day life on earth. Compare with few thousand years ago when we were more like individual colonies, now we are like a highly intertwined global network of human society, and soon we will be including other species into the network as well. Like the “Interspecies Internet” that has launched not too long ago. This global network has become the trend of human development, we are more and more connected, and events quite often happens at a global scale. One thing happened in China might affect London the next hour. We have become a whole.

This brought me to think about the bacteria P. dendritiformis. It is a special strand of bacteria that has a network that can communicate within its own colony, which is capable of transforming the colony’s shape according to environment conditions. In buddhism and many eastern cultures, a living creature of the cosmos is usually referred to a grain of sand, which is why sand is used to draw a mandala. However, now our world has changed, and we are now more like a inter-connected complex network. P. dendritiformis seems almost like the perfect material for drawing a modern mandala, for it is small enough to handle, and sophisticated enough to represent a working complex system.

I want to use P. dendritiformis to draw a mandala that reflects myself, the world, the universe, and our relationship. Because we claim the newest upcoming trend will be biotechnology, we believe biotechnology will change the world, and we believe we can handle biotechnology in the way we want it. And I couldn’t help but ponder if choosing P. dendritiformis who demonstrates the beautiful, almost repeating, patterns as my paint to draw a mandala, will it turns out the way I expect it is? Will it be as highly sophisticated? And will I be able to manipulate them in the way I want it? Just like how human manipulate biotechnology? I want to use this process of getting hands on biomaterial for drawing mandala to find the purified relationship between myself, the microbes, biotechnology, the world, and perhaps the universe and hidden rules of everything.