The following is excerpted from Instructions to the Cook by Bernie Glassman and Rick Fields, Bell Tower, 1996. This book is a primer on how to work with the mandala energies.
A Mandala consists of five main “courses” or aspects of life. The first course involves spirituality or vision; the second course is composed of training; the third course deals with our resources; the fourth course is made out of action, and the last course consists of integration.
All of these main courses are an essential part of our life. Just as we all need certain kinds of food to make a complete meal that will sustain and nourish us, we need all five of these courses to live a full life. It’s not enough to simply include all these courses in our meal. We have to prepare the five courses at the right time and in the right order.
The first course, the course of spirituality/vision, helps us to realize the oneness of life, and provides a still point at the center of all our activities. This course consists of spiritual practices. This practice could be prayer or listening to music or dance or taking walks or spending time alone—anything that helps us realize or reminds us of the oneness of life.
The second course is training. Study provides sharpness and intelligence. People usually study before they begin something, but I like to do it the other way around. I like to study my life or social action along with the other things I’m doing and not in the abstract. For this reason, the course of study always goes with the courses of spirituality, resources, integration and action.
Once we have established the clarity that comes from stillness and study, we can begin to see how to prepare the third course which is resources. This is the course which sustains us in the physical world. It is the course of work and business—the meat and potatoes. Taking care of ourselves and making a living in the world is necessary and important for all of us, not matter how “spiritual” we may think we are. At this point we also become aware of all the resources we have, e.g., money, elders, facilities, people.
The course of action grows naturally out of the courses of spirituality and resources. Once we begin to take care of our own basic needs, we become more aware of the needs of the people around us. Recognizing the oneness of life, we naturally reach out to other people because we realize that we are not separate from them.
The last course is the course of integration. This is the course that brings all the seemingly separate parts of our life together into a harmonious whole. It’s the course that turns all the other courses—spirituality, resources, social action, and education and training—into a joyous feast.
All the courses make up the supreme meal of our life. But it is not a question of trying to arrange our life so that we prepare equal amounts of each course. We all need different ingredients, and different amounts, at different times in our lives.