Mantras are sounds and yantras are visual symbols. These two tools are much used in tantra. Yantras represent maps of consciousness, maps of the mind. Mantras represent the essence of the final element.
The five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether and the five indriyas, the senses, are connected. Sound and speech are connected to akasha tattwa, the ether element. When nothing of matter exists, only sound exists. Sound, the vibration in space lingers on and on and on. The basic nature, the basic quality, the basic expression of the space element is sound. Therefore, mantra represents finality. After having gone through all the elements, there is merger into the space element, the brahmandiya element, the universal element.
When you are chanting the mantra in your meditation, you are only focusing on the sound and nothing more. In order to focus the mind and stop its wavering, you use a visual form, the symbol. That symbol can be anything. It can be a triangle, a flame, a drop, the moon, sun, or a flower.
The symbol which you have visualized, is the yantra on which you are focusing the mind. A yantra can be complex like the Sri Yantra, with many little triangles and pieces. It can also be as simple as a single triangle with three lines, or the shape of a flame.
Anything visual, in which you are holding your mind for an extended period of time, becomes the yantra. Ultimately what you are observing creates a mirror image in the mind, and that is your psychic symbol.
When I see children playing their games on iPads, iPhones, and computers, and when I see that their attention span is becoming shorter and shorter every passing day, then I imagine the kind of mind they are expressing at that time: it is a visually cluttered mind. Even when these children are dreaming, they are dreaming of Age of Empires,in their sleep. Even when they are dreaming, they are dreaming of a computer game, Batman shooting bang bang in their sleep or something coming to eat them.
These images become the symbols in the mind of a young child, for that is what they see when they sleep at night. They see themselves playing the game. Grown-ups, who have had a different background, have different visual impressions. They are not watching a game, but they will be watching their stresses in their dream; the difficulties that they had during the day, at work, with the job, the pressure, stress, anxiety and tension. That becomes the visual in their dream.
Anything that becomes visual is like a release from within, it is being acknowledged and released from the rubbish bin. Therefore, visual inputs and sights as yantra observation play an important role in tantra.
The sense organ that is used to the maximum is sight. Through your eyes, through your sight you can see wherever you want to see. You cannot taste twenty kilometres or twenty feet away, but you can see twenty kilometres or twenty feet away. You cannot touch twenty feet away, but you can see twenty feet away. You cannot smell twenty feet away, but you can see twenty feet away. Eyes are the most active sense organ that connects you to the world, and then comes sound.
Mantra and yantra are the tools which are used to transcend the gross dimension of form and sound. Yantras represent the transcendental form, and mantras represent the eternal sound principle that continue to exist even when creation does not exist, when matter and manifestation does not exist, when elements do not exist.
The best form of visualization during the chanting of any mantra is according to one’s inclination. Some people select as their symbol, an abstract symbol. Some people select a figure. Others select an image of saints, sages, gurus and avatars. There are people who select nature images such as water, a star, the moon or sun, a flower, a blade of grass or a leaf. Some people choose religious symbols and motifs such as an Om, a cross, Christ, Prophet Mohammed. Anything can be used for visualization.
In yoga the best type of images recommended for visualizations are those which do not carry any emotional content; and for that reason, the abstract symbols are used more often.
Mantra and yantra together become a powerful tool to take one from the gross to the subtle dimensions of human experience.
—17 April 2016, Ganga Darshan, Munger