Tantra - Mantra and Yantra

Swami Muktananda Saraswati

Einstein's theory that matter and energy are one and the same (E=MC2) was just that, a theory, although argued with proofs of the greatest mathematical elegance. Then scientists split the atom and liberated awesome amounts of energy. Theory merged with fact and today we are as much at home with nuclear atomic energy as our cave-dwelling ancestors were with fire. Atoms, apparently solid and indivisible, have revealed themselves to be cohesions of minute positive and negative energy fields. These fields are continually oscillating and, when plotted on a graph, this movement gives a regular pattern of wavelike undulations. Thus the cosmos resolves into energy patterns, cycles, pulsations, vibrations. The universe dances.

This fact, that all things seen and unseen, moving and unmoving, are the manifestations of vibrating energy, is the core of tantra through which the universe is experienced as the play of the kinetic polarity of being before its static pole, the dance of energy before consciousness. According to the tantric view of creation, the sphotavada, the energy that powers the cosmos is sound energy. From the substratum of absolute being, shabdabrahman, there issued the sound (nada) that initiated the creative process. This primordial sound, Om (the pranava), encompasses all possible sounds and is of such immeasurably powerful range and intensity that it shapes and reshapes the entire cosmos. To the tantric, creation is an ongoing process, for the pranava reverberates eternally. The universe also sings.

The shift in scientific emphasis from material particles to energy radiations has given rise to the science of cymatics, the systematic study of the effect of energy waves on matter. The basic principle of cymatics is that environmental forces and pressures are brought to bear in wave patterns and that matter responds to these pressures according to the frequency of the waves. Through these investigations we are becoming clearer as to the nature of the relationship between energy that manifests as matter, and the other kinds of energy that constitute the universe. Cymatics is a new name for an old game, for the concerns of this new research are precisely those of tantra, which manipulates energy vibrations to set the human organism resonating in harmony with the rest of the universe.

It is well known that by sustaining a high-pitched note for some time, a soprano can give a shattering performance, the sound resonating to such an intensity that it shatters glass. When supersonic aircraft break the 'sound barrier', that is, when they reach speeds faster than the speed of sound, they cause an explosion of sound, a sonic boom, that breaks windows and causes structural damage to buildings on the ground below. The effects may cover an area with a radius of miles. Investigations of phenomena such as these have led cymaticians, like tantrics and yogis, to concentrate much of their efforts on the effects of sound energy.

The full gamut of sounds extends far beyond those heard by man, and though we don't hear them we are still affected by these sound waves. Sound at the upper end of the sonic spectrum is conveyed by very short, very high frequency waves which are well above the limit of human perception and are called ultrasonic. Researchers have found that bathing the human body in certain kinds of ultrasonic waves has a beneficial effect on metabolism, facilitating an exchange of nutrients between cells, increasing the blood and oxygen supply and speeding up cell processes. Ultrasonic radiation also stimulates the lymph system which is important in combating disease, thus accelerating healing of cells. Medical scientists have been quick to exploit the practical application of this discovery, using high frequency sound to promote the knitting of bones and evolving the technique of 'micromassage' to treat disease by deep cell stimulation. Ultrasonic waves are also being used to kill bacteria and to cut through tissue in revolutionary 'knifeless' surgery.

Those sound waves below the human auditory threshold are called infrasounds and have a very low frequency of about ten to twenty cycles per second.

Mankind is just as sensitive to infrasounds as to ultrasonic vibrations, if not more so. The British Acoustical Society has made us aware of the low frequency vibrations produced by motor vehicles running at sustained speeds. The Society warns that these sounds can produce symptoms of recklessness, euphoria, low efficiency and dizziness due to loss of balance. They believe that infrasounds are responsible for the way in which some drivers wander across the central strip of highways into oncoming traffic, and suggest that these vibrations account for a large number of otherwise inexplicable accidents.

French engineer Gavraud, being a professor, had his office at the very top of the institute building, but whenever he was in his ivory tower he became ill with nausea. Trying to trace the disturbance, he used devices sensitive to various chemicals and radiations (including a Geiger counter) but found nothing. Then one day, emotionally and physically with his back to the wall, he discovered that the whole room was vibrating at a very low frequency. It turned out that his office was just the right shape and at the right distance to resonate in sympathy with an air conditioning plant on a nearby rooftop. It was this rhythm, at seven cycles per second, that was making him sick.

Interest awakened, Gavraud went on to build an infrasound generator that resembled a police whistle, but six feet long and powered by compressed air. The first trial was so successful in producing a whole range of low frequency sounds that the operating technician dropped dead. A post-mortem showed that all his internal organs had been reduced to jelly by the vibrations. Another such generator has been independently developed as a riot-control device. This instrument emits sound waves that have a devastating effect on the human intestinal tract, causing rioters to evacuate their bowels on the spot. Appropriately enough, it is called 'the curdler'.

We don't know the exact mechanism that accounts for the body's reaction to these ultra and infrasonic waves, but the work of Russian scientist Lakhovsky is in some ways related. Lakhovsky pioneered radio biology by using radio waves to enhance healing and general metabolism in plants, birds, animals and people. He pointed out that the nucleus of a living cell may be compared to an electrical oscillating circuit. This nucleus contains the chromosomes and other filament like structures floating in a fluid that contains all the mineral salts found in sea water (one of the best-known conductors). According to Lakhovsky, these filaments constitute minute oscillating circuits which are comparable to the circuits, coils and windings of radio receivers. Thus, living cells can play the part of transmitters or receivers for exceedingly short radio waves which give rise to high frequency currents in the circuits of the cell nucleus. Although this theory needs further validation, it does suggest why cells might be so sensitive to sound waves. Certainly Lakhovsky's view is in agreement with the tantric insight that every unit of man's organism is capable of tuning in to the harmonies of a singing universe.

Although it's debatable that all the mind is in the body, it is well established that 'all the body is in the mind', so that the sound waves which have such astounding organic repercussions are also likely to affect human consciousness. While the brain is not the mind (and the mind is not consciousness) the brain and nervous system are the physical mediators of consciousness. In 1928 it was discovered that the brain also exhibits a rhythmic wave pattern which can be measured on an electroencephalogram (EEG). There are four basic brain patterns which have been named beta, alpha, theta and delta. Delta rhythms are the slowest, running between one and three cycles per second, and are characteristic of deep sleep. Theta rhythms have a frequency of four to seven cycles per second, and seem to be associated with deep relaxation and creativity. Alpha rhythms indicate relaxed but heightened awareness and vary between eight and twelve cycles per second. Beta waves, between thirteen and twenty-two cycles per second, seem to be confined to the frontal (thinking) area of the brain and are the rhythm of our everyday, waking consciousness. The discovery of brainwaves set scientists on the search for the physical roots of consciousness, their findings bringing them closer to the science of consciousness- tantra.

As a result, they have found that the predominant brainwave pattern can be altered by superimposing another rhythm through the senses. For instance, a light flashing into a subject's eyes at a regular rate imposes a new rhythm on his natural brain rhythm, altering EEG patterns and producing changes in consciousness. This is the principle behind the efforts of mothers to soothe their babies to sleep by humming lullabies. Vibrations of a frequency too low to hear could account for other, less pleasant, mood changes such as the feelings of depression and fear that seem to be attached to certain places. It has been reported that visitors to Santorini, off the southern tip of Greece, feel intensely uncomfortable and rarely stay more than a day or two. This island is the remnant of a volcanic explosion in 1450 BC and suffered an earthquake in 1956. The seismological station now established there reports a constant undercurrent of extremely low frequency earth murmurs which could influence the emotional patterns of people in the area.

Similar vibrations are associated with earthquakes, starting minutes before the first obvious tremors of the quake proper. These vibrations have a range of seven to fourteen cycles per second, which is precisely the frequency associated with emotional disturbance and physical unease. It is now thought that these warning rumbles are the signal that sets animals running from earthquake zones hours before the rupture, and that they may be responsible for the extreme terror and panic experienced by people involved in even minor quakes.

To the tantric, the connection between sound and consciousness is not at all dubious. Having struck the initial chord of the universal symphony, the primal sound reverberates eternally through time and space along a continuum of manifestation from subtle to gross. The first condition of sound is called para nada, supreme, unmanifest sound. As yet, form has not come into existence, so there can be no striking of one object against another. Hence this is the stage of un-struck sound, energy resounding on itself. Yogis experience this as the anahata-dhvani, the sound of silence in the heart chakra. The second condition of sound extends para nada in different dimensions and is known as pasyanti nada. Sound energy in this state begins to take on form and moves toward the visible. Just as ultrasonic waves have a counterpart in the ultraviolet radiations of the visible spectrum and infrasounds correspond to infrared light, so at this stage sound merges with light, giving rise to the third condition, madhyama nada, luminous sound. Madhyama manifests as patterns and curves (waveforms) which make possible the enclosure and definition of space, and project the original sound in forms experienced as audible sound, vaikhari, the infinite manifestations of the sound cosmos. These four conditions do not arise one after the other, they are not an evolutionary sequence. Rather they coexist simultaneously, like the overtones and undertones of a musical chord.

In the tantric experience, everything in the universe originates in, is constituted of, sound. It has been demonstrated that muscles under tension produce audible sound, and a violin laying still on a table is always humming gently to itself, not to mention the sizzle and howl of high-tension electric cables on an absolutely calm day. As acoustic research has shown, everything everywhere emits sound, even if it is too low or too high for us to hear it at the moment. However, it will not be too long before we do, for we are rapidly pushing back the limits of auditory perception, with the help of various electronic devices which convert inaudible sounds into signals within the normal hearing range.

Everything we experience through the senses as tangible matter, all that we feel, all that we think, is sound energy of a particular concentration and frequency, a more or less complex pattern of sound waves! Whenever a thought arises an unheard sound is formed. It progresses through pasyanti on the borders of awareness to surface in the mind as madhyama, mental sound, the internal dialogue which becomes audible (vaikhari) through action, usually vocal action or speech. Speech is made visible by writing, linking sound and sight, frequency and form.

The experience of yogis in profound states of meditation has revealed that in the universe there are fifty basic sounds, called matrikas, and within each is the potential for a specific visual form. The audible sounds associated with manifest creation are combinations and permutations of the matrikas. As the sound frequency changes, so too the visible form gives way to new shapes and formal relationships. This realization is the basis for the revealed alphabet of Sanskrit and is gaining scientific support from the work of Hans Jenny in Switzerland.

One of Jenny's inventions is a tonoscope which converts sounds into visible three-dimensional patterns in inert material, using the human voice as a sound source. If seeing is believing, then we have to believe that visual form is related to sound frequency. Jenny found, for example, that when someone speaks the letter 'O' into a microphone, it produces a perfectly spherical pattern. It is also true that 'O' is the oldest alphabetical letter, being in constant use since the Phoenicians introduced it in 1300 BC. The relationship between form and frequency is not as straightforward as this isolated instance might lead us to believe, for not all alphabets represent the sound 'O' with the same (or even a similar) symbol. However, it appears that the two are definitely related.

Words do have power, even on the physical plane. Spoken sound results from causing air to resonate in the throat, mouth and nasal chambers, while altering it in some way with the palate, tongue, teeth or lips. Thus there are vowels, which are produced without friction or stoppage, and consonants, which are the product of friction, squeezing or stoppage of the breath in some part of the vocal passage. Consonants are often explosive, as when air is released suddenly from behind an obstruction, as in the 'p' or 'b' sound, or they are fricative, as in the 's' sound where the air escapes gradually. They produce little power, but have much higher frequencies than vowel sounds. Vowel sounds are always accompanied by vibration of the vocal cords (voiced) and have far more power than the largely unvoiced consonants. The power of vowels ranges from nine to forty-seven microwatts, while consonants seldom reach two microwatts. For this reason vowels carry further and are more easily received. We know that the human organism is sensitive to subtle, inaudible sound, so it is not unreasonable to assume that living matter, especially humankind, is sensitive in various ways to the subtle frequency changes and patterns in speech.

It is interesting to note that resonance in the human ear fluids makes it easiest to hear the vowel sounds ah, am, eh, ee and oo, in that order. When pronounced correctly, the sound Om is a single gong-like note that begins with ah, progressing through aw to merge with oo. The final humming 'm' is not so much a sound in itself as the extension of the vowel sound, modified as the lips come together in relaxation. Therefore, this particular combination is physically one of the most powerful known. It doesn't seem too poetic that it could be omnipotent and give birth to the universe if pronounced by someone who has also experienced all the other dimensions of its potency.

The potent sounds realized by super conscious yogis are known as mantras and the concept of the evolution of the universe from sound is the basis of mantra shastra, the body of knowledge relating to the scientific application of mantra in order to expand consciousness. A mantra is a sound or combination of sounds that sets up particular vibrations in the body and psyche of man, and throughout the cosmos. A mantra exerts its power through these very sound waves.

The physical sound patterns produced by mantras are capable of coming into sympathetic vibration with the sound patterns that make up physical phenomena. Just as we presently use ultrasonic waves to destroy bacteria or influence healing, so tantric yogis have used mantra for these and many other purposes. It is not just superstition, after all, that uttering a specific sound will cure illness, provoke various emotions, stimulate or suppress mental faculties. It is not hard to give credence to the theory that the giant stones of the pyramids could have been lifted into place with the aid of mantras.

We have seen how sound vibrations can affect our bodies, emotions and mental functions, and how change in brainwave patterns can be artificially induced through the stimulation of the senses by pulsating sound or light. The rhythmic repetition (japa) of mantra sets up an insistent pattern of sound vibrations which can alter the frequency of the brain rhythms, bringing about dramatic changes of consciousness. Each of us has his own characteristic energy vibrations (of which brainwaves are just one example) and mantra is the means for perfecting their integration. The rhythmic, mindful repetition of our individual mantra, that is, the crucial sound frequency that induces resonance in our existing vibrations, imposes on our consciousness one particular pattern. Eventually this pattern becomes predominant, causing all existing patterns to resonate in harmony. This sound that is mantra is the power that transports the mind from its normal state into a state of super consciousness.

Tantra teaches that mantras are fundamental in determining the shape of objects in the universe, and scientists have shown that under vibration, small particles of matter group themselves in definite geometrical patterns and figures, corresponding exactly to the quality, strength and rhythm of the sound. Thus the frequency of sound energy influences the forms which emerge when, that energy becomes visible.

In addition to Jenny's findings, there is the work of eighteenth century German physicist Ernst Chladni, who discovered a way of making vibration patterns visible. He mounted a thin metal plate on a violin, scattered sand on the plate, and found that when the violin was played the sand arranged itself into beautiful patterns. These arrangements are known as Chladni's figures and develop because the sound comes to rest only on those parts of the plate where there is no vibration. They have been used extensively in physics to demonstrate wave function, and they illustrate very clearly that different frequencies produce different formal patterns. It has been pointed out as significant that Chladni's figures most often adopt familiar organic forms. The most common are concentric circles, such as the annual rings in a tree trunk; alternating lines like the stripes on tigers; hexagonal grids like those of insect mounds and honeycomb; radiating wheel spokes like the canals of jellyfish; and vanishing spirals such as the turrets of shellfish.

It is interesting to note that the form associated with the mantra Om is the golden egg, the cosmic womb. The proper pronunciation of Om is aum; it is not a simple 'O' as in 'doe', but is more rounded at the beginning and elongated, tapering off into silence without coming to a definite endpoint. Just so, the perfect sphere Jenny found to be generated by 'O' is distorted into the cosmic egg which is larger at one end and slightly stretched before coming to a rounded point at the other. Such integrated experience of sound and archetypal image is typical of tantra.

Durga Yantra

In tantra this relationship between sound and visual form is expressed in the maxim that every mantra has its corresponding yantra. A yantra is essentially a geometrical composition, but its true nature lies beyond geometry. It is a dynamic visual image of the energy conveyed by mantra. It is not an arbitrary, artificial arrangement, but a psychological tool used to facilitate concentration.

Tantra emphasizes the effectiveness of inner visualization in determining the hidden meaning of things, visualization being the most potent form of concentration. We can derive an indication of just how powerful yantras can be when we consider that one of the most active areas of the brain is the visual cortex. This means that the majority of the information that reaches the brain comes through sight. If one particular visual pattern dominates this input, then we have come a long way towards unifying the rhythms responsible for states of consciousness.

Further connections between visual shapes and psychic energy have been established by the Pavlitas in Czechoslovakia. They have developed what they call psychotropic generators, which are devices that can be charged with bioenergy in such concentrations that they can be used for turning small motors. The significant aspect of these generators is the shape, which is usually one of the basic geometric forms - a square, rectangle, circle, cube, cylinder - precisely the shapes that dominate yantras. Also significant is that energy is transferred to these generators through visual concentration, using a 'charging pattern' inscribed on the generator itself. The inventors found that it is easier to direct one's energy into the generator by retracing the lines of charging pattern with the eyes. This also deepens concentration and speeds up the energy transfer. These charging patterns are known to tantrics and yogis as yantras. Science and tantra agree that a yantra is a graphic representation of the energies that structure objects and states of consciousness. A yantra is a power diagram that reinforces the pattern of energy generated by mantra, enabling us to manipulate this energy to expand consciousness.

Tantra is the method by which man can arouse his inherent energies in order to propel himself to the heights of human potential. It is a system which recognizes that the material universe has its basis in vibrating energy, and that this energy is one with transcendental consciousness, being its kinetic or dynamic aspect. To the tantric, matter, energy and consciousness are one. Consciousness can be heightened by amplifying our individual energies, causing them to resonate in harmony with the forces of the cosmos. Tantra accelerates personal vibrations by manipulating specific forms of cosmic sound energy, mantra, and reinforcing these with the corresponding visual symbol, yantra, which acts as a template for the visual coding of the unconscious.

It has been said that tantra is the science of consciousness expansion and liberation, and that mantra and yantra are the audible and visible symbols of expanded consciousness. Rather, mantra and yantra are tantra; tantra is liberated consciousness.