Manifestation of Mandalas

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, talk given in France on 31 July, 1984

The science of tantra has three aspects. The first is mantra, the second is yantra and the third is mandala. Mantra is nada (vibration), yantra is a geometrical symbol which represents time and space, and mandala represents the unconscious in a specific form.

Tantra aims at expansion of consciousness, and in order to expand the consciousness you have to employ certain tools. There are three states of individual consciousness. In the Mandukya Upanishad there is a brief description of these states, which are waking, dreaming and sleeping.

Dream consciousness and mandalas

The waking consciousness is related to the objective universe where the individual consciousness realizes external objects through the senses. In dream consciousness it experiences subjective occurrence. The senses are not there, the objective mind is not there, but you see many things. These manifestations in the dream consciousness are related to mandalas. It is the effect of the subconscious mind which manifests in dreams, but the dream consciousness is independent of the ordinary consciousness. You may see things which you have seen in the waking state in your dreams, yet the dream consciousness is independent. It does not depend on the external consciousness for its experiences.

In the Mandukya Upanishad these three stages have three names. The objectified consciousness is known as vaishwanara, which means ‘the man of the universe’ or ‘the consciousness of the world’. Dream consciousness is known as tejasa, which means ‘illumined’ or ‘brilliant’. So the dream consciousness is a very brilliant consciousness. It is not a state of thinking, ideating or reasoning. It does not involve the intellect. It is a state of seeing. You can see in dreams and you can think about what you saw when you are awake.

The objective mind cannot see; the subjective mind cannot think. The dream consciousness refers to the subjective mind. A yogi does not think like an ordinary person. He ‘sees’. Therefore he is called a seer. In India he is called rishi, ‘one who can see’.

Once a disciple of Sri Aurobindo wrote a letter to him seeking guidance. Sri Aurobindo replied, “I do not think as you do. I see and take from this seeing.” That is the state of dream consciousness. In Sanskrit, the term used for ‘dream’ is swapna, which means ‘independent experience’.

You may think that whatever you see in dreams is the projection of your objective experience, but you make a mistake there. I want to make it clear that dream consciousness is independent of any source of knowledge, it is not dependent on objective experience. Did you ever ask a person born blind if he dreams? You may think that he does not dream because he has not even seen himself. He has not seen a tree, a motor car or his own tongue. Then what is the source of his dreams? That is the level of mandala. When an aspirant begins to see independent objects in his dream, they are mandalas.

Sometimes you can project your dream consciousness over the waking consciousness and when you are able to do this, you begin to ‘see’ even when you are awake. There have been some painters, artists, musicians, writers, poets, army commanders and scientists who could project their subjective consciousness over the objective mind. The artist does not have to think how the colour red will look, he just puts it there. His thought forms flow in the form of perceptions. This is the source of mandala.

Projection of universal patterns

Mandalas are infinite. In Greek mythology there are many gods and it is the same in the Hindu tradition. These gods do not exist anywhere in the stratosphere. There is no planet where these gods live, yet they do exist. They exist within the microcosmic universe. Forms and sounds exist within you, and when I say ‘within you’ I do not mean the body, for you are beyond the body.

Mandalas have played a very important part in the development of art throughout the world. Nowadays in America they have houses like matchboxes. That is a modern mandala, but in the ancient times people had specific kinds of houses with a certain type of door, a certain type of entrance, etc., and these mandalas were a projection of the subconscious of the artist.

What is the meaning of mandala? Mandala is a Sanskrit word which means ‘the area of an aura’. If you flash a torchlight it will illumine an area; there is an area of its aura. In the same way, mandala means area of aura. Usually, mandalas are circular. Mandala literally means ‘circular area of the aura of light’. You may have seen the halo placed around Christ, Rama, Krishna and Buddha in their pictures. That is mandala. It is basically a circular aura representing the mind of an individual.

If you give little children a pencil and ask them to draw something, first they will draw a circle, because the circle represents the time-space continuum. The universe is not flat. Light bends space. This is as per the laws of physics. Light never goes straight, it always takes a curve. Continuity of curvature makes a circle. This circle represents the universe; therefore, mandala is the representative symbol of the time-space continuum. But what is a square? A circle can be made into a square. You can take a piece of thread and make a circle, and if you don’t like it you can turn it into a square. If you don’t like that, you can make a triangle. So, all these shapes ultimately flow into a circle which is a representative symbol of mandala.

A mandala represents the scientific universal pattern. Therefore, when an artist realizes a form he is realizing a universal picture. When a musician realizes a sound vibration or sound formula, he is realizing a universal pattern. This circular pattern is formed in the Indian musical scale. The beginning and end of the scale is the same. All through his musical practice, the musician proceeds by creating a curvature in the sound movement. So, whether it is a sound mandala or a tutelary mandala, a structural mandala or a thought mandala, it always has a circular pattern at its base and within the framework of that circular pattern, other patterns are created.

Mandalas of deities

There is another form of mandala which is very important for us to understand: the devas and devis. These terms mean ‘divine entities’. I must make it very clear that they do not exist as we are usually told, but are the forces of higher nature. Take the example of Durga, Kali or Lakshmi. There are no such ladies with four hands existing somewhere in the stratosphere, but universal forces definitely exist.

These universal forces have been symbolized in the forms of mandalas. Greeks have created their own symbols and Hindus have created theirs. The Egyptians also created their own symbols. Each and every culture has created its own symbols, but there is one important point. These mandalas represent individual patterns because they are the discovery or realization of one individual. Sometimes, however, mass consciousness can also realize the same mandala and therefore we often see very close patterns of symbols in Greek and Hindu mythologies.

The Konark temple in India represents the reality of the sun. That is the mandala of surya, the sun. Surya is the mandala of universal energy. It is not only the sun outside in the sky, but universal energy. Universal surya and the spheric surya can be combined or compared. The same concept exists in the Greek culture. There is another example. Hindus believe in Saraswati who represents the mandala of wisdom and learning, fine art, music and aesthetics, and the Greeks developed a similar concept in Athena.

So, it is possible that a similar mandala is conceived by different people in different periods. However, the progression in the experience of mandalas has not been considerable across the world in the last five to ten thousand years because people have been engaged in wars, conquests and discovering new methods of commercialization. As a consequence, the art and science of mandala has suffered.

Realizing the personal mandala

The most important thing in the science of mandalas is that everyone should discover their own mandala. To discover one’s own mandala is to discover one’s ishta devata. Ishta devata means your personal form, your personal symbolic form of yourself. One of the symbolic forms which influenced the past cultures for many thousands of years was the shivalingam. It can be described as a kind of monolithic representation which influences the subconscious forces. When you project your mind before the monolithic symbol of the shivalingam, the psychic contents of the mind are exploded.

The importance and effectiveness of a mandala lies in its power to explode psychic visions in one. Many people take psychedelic drugs because they want spontaneous psychic visions. Many other methods are also used to ‘see’. You know how to think, will, reason and remember. That is what we have been taught in school, but when I ask you to ‘see’, you confront difficulties.

The process of ‘seeing’ continues within. For example, if you have a child, you know what he looks like, how his nose is shaped and what his complexion is. Now, if he goes to boarding school and comes back after six months, you still recognize him as your child. How? What is the process through which your previous knowledge is connected with the present events? What you saw in him then and what you see now is continued in you all the time. The picture is there. That is called the unseen link, and that is the secret of memory. Those who cannot relate these frames together have a bad memory. Therefore, everybody who wants to develop his memory should learn how to ‘see’. We should all learn to realize mandalas.