Mandala - Symbol Of Divinity

Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati (adapted from 'Tattwa Suddhi', chapter 12)

Intimately woven into the theory and philosophy of tantra is the science of mantra, yantra and mandala. Tantra is both a philosophy and a practical science, and its sublime theories become efficacious through the use of mantra, yantra and mandala. Here we shall examine the mandala from which arose the rich art of tantric iconography, temples, art, architecture and music.

Principle of mandala: primal form

Any form which is pictorially or visually created within the consciousness of man, forms a mandala. In order to create a mandala, you have to be able to see within yourself, not in the form of thought but of vision, as clearly as you see the world with open eyes. The clearer your inner vision, the more accurate and powerful the mandala you create.

The principle of a mandala is that it lives within a circle. Thus any mandala that is visualized, has to be represented within the symmetry of a circle. This is due to the fact that the circle is considered as a primal form. Even the earth on which we live is not flat but round or elliptical. The formation of a mandala follows the same principle as that of light as expounded by science. Light waves move in a curve thus bending space and forming an arc or curvature. The circular aura is an essential factor of the mandala and this is clearly evident in all the ancient tantric mandalas existing today.

Anything can form a mandala; a tree, a house, a car, an animal, a human being - even your body is a mandala. When you are able to visualize through the 'inner eye', the form you see of any object is very precise, even more precise than you can see with your eyes open. You may be visualizing the same object both inside and out, but the difference is that, when you visualize an object through the higher mind you momentarily glimpse what lies behind the form. Thus you are able to perceive more than the average eye. We can see a tree, a house, an animal or a beautiful landscape and then reproduce it on canvas or paper. However, that is an insufficient mandala because we have not been able to see beyond the object We have not perceived the object on a linear dimension, or in the form of colour or sound. Therefore it cannot convey to us any meaning beyond the fact that it is what it is meant to be.

Creating a mandala: mystic vision

In order to create a mandala that has both power and force, both inner clarity and the ability to replicate the inner vision are important. Some people can clearly see inside but cannot re-create externally what they have seen. This is often what distinguishes a good artist from a bad one. Both may have the same inner vision but it differs in clarity of reproduction. A mandala is the essence of an object perceived by one who has refined his inner vision; an inner cosmic picture which is reproduced for all to see.

The mandala you create is dependent on your level of consciousness. The more evolved your consciousness, the more universal will be the mandala you create. A universal mandala is that which is created through a mind in tune with cosmic consciousness. It is therefore applicable and relevant to all mankind, whereas mandalas created by minds which are still on the individual plane, have less universal appeal and ability to invoke higher levels of consciousness in others. Moreover, certain mandalas are created by those who have transcended the material plane and have become enraptured by supra-conscious ecstasy. It is these mandalas which can evoke spiritual experience in others and it is primarily these which tantra has employed.

Every culture and civilization has its mandalas to offer us, and the quality of their creations gives us a clear idea of the level of consciousness of that society. All forms of art, sculpture and architecture are mandala creations which have been envisaged in the abyss of the mind, and then been re-created. That is why the work is so profound, and can influence so many generations so many centuries later, who stand in awe.

The difference between a mandala created by an artist and that created by a mystic is significant. An artist communicates his inner experience by translating it into a concept that is bound by time and space, because his insight is not as profound as that of a mystic. It usually conveys only his emotions and not a metaphysical truth. A mystic on the other hand, goes far beyond the limitations of the finite mind, emotions and intellect, and therefore these experiences relate more profoundly to the universal concepts of the cosmos.

Both artist and mystic explore and depict inner truths. However, an artist expels his experiences through his work of art, whereas the mystic continues to develop one experience into another, A mystic is not aiming to discover inner visions, but that which lies beyond. If an artist were to do the same he would be transformed into a mystic Therefore, all art based on divine inner experience has been able to withstand the test of time, and exist as an immortal and eternal idea.

In India, all forms of art, music and architecture are deeply influenced by the spiritual insight of its ancestral past. Classical Indian music, through its blend of melody, beat and rhythm, creates a mandala that can evoke a response in the deepest layers of consciousness. The artwork of the Ajanta and Ellora caves, the famed Khajuraho temples, the Konarak sun temple in Orissa, and millions of other such works, are in actual fact mandalas that deeply influence the consciousness of those who see them.

This influence is always very subtle yet precise. One cannot know the levels of mind that the mandala explores and influences. It is the subconscious and unconscious mind with which the mandalas converse, and thereby are able to awaken inner visions. It is through this process that the deeper layers of mind begin to manifest.

Devi and Devata: divine forces

In tantra, mandalas have also been depicted as pictorial representations of divine forces, symbolised as theriomorphic and anthropomorphic forms. Tantra asserts that these forms of divinity do not exist as objective entities any where in any part of the stratospheres, presiding over our destiny. However, it does feel the necessity of developing the idea of divinity in human form in order to make it comprehensible to the gross awareness of man.

Tantra asks how a man who is incapable of seeing within himself, can visualize or experience the formless reality. We cannot even experience or witness our own thoughts, let alone the higher reality. So the mandala forms of devis and devas developed into elaborate and visually arresting symbols, However, the grosser imagination of divinity is ultimately to be transcended and developed into the experience of formless reality.

The mandala symbology of devis and devas covers an infinite array of forms, colours and depictions. Some are ravishingly beautiful, others provocative, some kind and compassionate, others grotesque and fear-provoking; some suggest divine powers and others material gain. In each case the structure is elaborately detailed and designed to evoke a corresponding response within the consciousness of the aspirant. This symbology is based on the eternal archetypal structure of man's collective unconscious and these mandalas draw out those archetypes as a magnet draws out iron filings from a heap of diamonds.

Concentration on a mandala awakens the deep-seated samskaras within and reveals the unknown mysteries in. the form of dreams, visions and mental action. You are not compelled to face the samskaras directly and so they do not affect your action in daily life. They are dispensed with during meditation and dream. It is a way of bypassing a terrible and fearsome enemy against which you have no defence. These mandalas which are always very aesthetic and visually arresting, and able to capture and direct the imagination, which is the subtle link to the higher mind.

Shiva-Shakti: field of power

Perhaps the most controversial mandala which tantra has defined to date is the kriya of maithuna. The kriya of maithuna forms a mandala that has corresponding yantras and mantras. The erotic sculptures of the Khajuraho temples, and other temples in Orissa, are based entirely on the tantric belief that maithuna is an act through which the divine powers can be invoked. Man represents Shiva or the positive polarity and woman represents Shakti or the negative polarity. Through their esoteric and esoteric union, they create a field of or an energy circuit which is the mandala. These works do not denote carnal passion but union on the highest esoteric level. It is parallel to the union of energy and consciousness, Shiva and Shakti.

The linga and yoni mandala is also symbolic of this higher union, and that is why this symbol has been venerated in India for centuries. The linga signifies that which is effulgent, while the yoni signifies the source. Therefore the linga should be understood as the symbol of pure consciousness and the yoni as the source of energy, which together are the twin forces behind creation. Man and woman unite on the physical plane to relive the experience of unity from which they have evolved. This unity is an internal experience, just as a spiritual experience is an internal experience, and there is nothing sinful about it. Today, however, the practice of maithuna has mostly degenerated into a mere exoteric act due to the admonitions imposed by religion.

Tantra is perhaps the only philosophy that has been bold enough to say this. Others have remained quiet about it, or exploited the idea by branding it a sin, thereby inducing a sense of guilt and depravity in man for doing it. However, guilt and shame are very hard to expel from the consciousness. They stay with a man a long time, controlling his actions, mind, personality and life. Unless man is able to break through these barriers, he cannot attain the higher experience. For that experience he will have to eradicate his guilt and shame.

Tantra holds that maithuna is not a sin but an act of worship which can help the individual transcend his lower consciousness, a concept which most people disbelieve due to their complex of guilt and shame. Thus, this knowledge was kept secret and only handed down from guru to disciple, establishing the tradition of an eternal mandala, because the guru and disciple tradition begins and ends at the same point, which signifies that it continues forever.

Tattwa Shuddhi: a glance within

The practice of Tattwa Shuddhi is also skilfully arranged as a mandala. We begin the practice at some point of evolution and travel very far into the self. After having followed the process of evolution and involution of creation, we find ourselves back at the same point, as if it were an endless circle that we had been following from birth to death to birth. When you see the reality behind your birth and existence, the desire for liberation awakens, compelling you to discover the means to free yourself from this endless cycle of cause and event.

This circular form given to the practice of tattwa Shuddhi has a deliberate pattern, a deliberate idea, and a deliberate force. That force is the secret power of the mandala, which you can only know when you pursue it, as a young man pursues his first love. The practice gives you a momentary glance into that secret power; just a flash of the eye and the experience is gone, so that often you may not even know you had it. However the effect can be felt on the subtler dimensions of your consciousness, and it is that part of you that the mandala is trying to reach.

Mantra, yantra, mandala: perfect harmony

Mantra, yantra and mandala are all a product of the profound inner vision of the yogis, rishis and seers who have enquired deeply into the nature of the cosmos. They are a product of high states of spiritual enlightenment, ecstasy and experience. In that state of mind the consciousness transcends all barriers and therefore the experience is called 'universal'.

As long as you are bound by time and space your experiences are limited and related only to that dimension. However, when you transcend that, there is no religion, no caste, no creed and no sex, so how can the vision be limited? Moreover, in that state of mind, you are one with the whole process of Nature and can commune with Her. Then all the visions become a part of the cosmic truth and these images follow the strict codes and laws which are inherent in every process of Nature. This is evident in the tantric mantra, yantra and mandala which are all in perfect linear and geometrical harmony and balance.

In the tantric system, each mantra, yantra and mandala is calculated right down to the last detail. If it does not fulfil the exact mathematical equation which defines its balance, then it is inefficacious and incomplete. You need on]y to glance at some of these mandalas and yantras to verify their mathematical balance. In fact, that is one of the first aspects which attracts your attention.

In the tantric system, the mandala represents the visual iconographic form of a higher force, the yantra represents the abstract form of that force, and the mantra represents the subtle form. Thus each mandala has a corresponding yantra and mantra and one can be substituted for the other, according to the level of the aspirant, as they evoke the same results. However, different deities represent different levels of consciousness and are to be chosen on that basis. Yantras and mandalas must never be misunderstood as being religious, occult, mystic or mysterious symbols, but as highly charged forces of energy which can invoke the same frequency within us to expand our consciousness.