yantra

Yantra

Yantras are sacred geometric diagrams that are used in tantric practice. They could be seen as the visual equivalent of Mantras. They are used in rituals and also just as objects of meditation and contemplation. Different deities or powers will have different Yantras and every Yantra will have distinguishing features. However, there are some basic components of all Yantras that can be identified and understood.

Generally, Yantras can be understood as maps of the progression from subtle unmanifest essence into concrete manifest reality. The center of the Yantra represents the unmanifest and the very outside is the final culmination into manifestation. Yantras may be worked with by starting from the center and proceeding out, mirroring the process of creation, or they may be worked with by starting on the outside and working inward, tracing a path of return to source through dissolution.

At the center of the Yantra, there is a dot that represents the unmanifest essence that is called the Bindu. It is analogous to the pure puruṣa/prakṛti avyakta” principle of Sāṃkhya.

Outside of the Bindu, there are interlocking triangles or occasionally other pointed shapes that represent the creative forces. They are the underlying laws that allow for manifestation to take place. They are analogous to the buddhi or mahat level of the Sāṃkhya cosmology. Generally, upward pointing triangles are considered “masculine.” They orient energy from the individual into the Cosmic. They can thus be seen as dissolving. The downward pointing triangles are “feminine” and they orient energy from the Cosmic down into the individual. They are creating. The exact interplay between the two will depend on the individual Yantra. Some Yantras emphasize the masculine component and some the feminine and these components might overlap and interact differently depending on the arrangement.

Outside of the triangles will be a circle, which represents a unity or the infinity of possibilities that exist in this still potential form.

Petals emanate from the circle out in all directions and these are the first manifestations of subtle reality. They are often identified with the senses and other subtle elements of mind. So, this connects to the lower aspects of the Antaḥ Kāraṇa and to the Tanmātras. Depending on the individual Yantra, the number or exact arrangement of petals might vary.

Finally, the outside square of the Yantra is called the Bhūpura. It connects to the elements, the Bhūtas, and our final concrete manifest reality. The cardinal directions, which place us on this Earth are located in the four gates that are on each side of the Bhūpura. These are the access points to enter into the Yantra.

Deity Work

Tantra often involves working with specific deities or conceptions of divine powers. However, tantric practice is different than worship in a traditional sense. A tantric practitioner may also worship deities in a more ordinary sense, but just also engages in tantric practice as well. In many ways, self-divinization is the key to Tantra. Tantra is about finding the divinity within. So, they say, “To worship God, you must become God.” The aim of tantric deity work then is not so much to worship a deity, but to invoke their attitude, energy, and power into oneself.

“The Tantra contains nothing like idolatry or ‘worship of the doll’ which we, taking the cue from the Christian missionaries, nowadays call it. This truth, the author, Arthur Avalon, has made very clear in the introduction to his translation. The Tantra repeatedly says that one is to adore the Deity by becoming a Deity (Devatā) himself.” – Sir John Woodroffe, Shakti and Shakta, p. 19

“In tantric worship, which is generally referred to as sādhanā,or spiritual exercise,the aspirant seeks to achieve an awakened or enlightened state of consciousness through techniques that are physical, mental, ritualistic, and spiritual at the same time. A central theme in tantric sādhanā is the identification of the macrocosm with the microcosm, which is represented by the human organism, specifically by the sādhaka, the practitioner or adept. Through meditation techniques, rituals, images, mantras, yantras, and maṇḍalas (schematic diagrams), the adept systematically identifies parts, aspects, or dimensions of himself or herself with parts, aspects, or dimensions of the cosmos. The deities are thought of as aspects of the cosmos that correspond to aspects of the human organism—mental, physical, or both. The aim of tantric sādhanā is to establish identity with the deity worshiped, to appropriate that deity, or to awaken that deity within onself, and then to offer it pūjā, which in effect means worshipping the divinity within oneself. Or, conversely, one worships the deity residing within the hope of awakening in oneself the reality that it represents.” – Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine, David Kinsley

Deities may be visualized in their anthropomorphic forms, but they are understood as ultimately consisting of kinds of conscious forces. Working with a deity can be a way of raising and cultivating the One Energy of Śakti within oneself or may be a way of bringing some of the specific qualities of certain conscious forces more into one’s life or space.

A Tantric practitioner may work with many deities or only a few. Different lineages will have their own pantheons of possibilities and may even have specific procedures for when, how, and why each deity may be invoked. Some examples may be: Gaṇeśa, Kālī, Durgā, Śiva, Rudra, Bhairava, Lalitā, Mātaṅgī, Vārāhī, Tārā and the deities of the various planets.

Samarasa

There are many words that are used to describe Liberation in Indian Philosophy. One word that is favored within Tantra is Samarasa. The word Sama means equal or balanced and the word Rasa has a host of meanings, many of which are richly used within Tantra and also Āyurveda. It can be summed up as meaning “taste” or “essence.” Samarasa then refers to the state of experiencing everything as being of one essence. It is a state where one tastes the world in a balanced and ultimately undifferentiated way. It is when the awareness rests in a state of pure Śiva and Śakti.

It is the culmination of Tantric Yoga, the ability to see oneself in the world and the world within oneself, both in perfect harmony. In the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, it is said to be a synonym for samādhi, a state of perfect equilibrium where the individual soul exists in union with the Cosmic Reality.

The person who permanently resides in this state while still embodied is called an Avadhūta, or someone who has shaken off all worldly concerns. Since an Avadhūta has no need of any kind of convention or ordinary worldly involvement, they are sometimes known to behave in strange and inscrutable ways. To encounter such a being is considered to be an enormous blessing, no matter how they may appear.

The Avadhūta Gītā is a Sanskrit text which sings the praise of the Avadhūta and describes the state of resting in Samarasa:

Nirmūla-mūla-rahito hi sadodito’haṃ nirdhūma-dhūma-rahito hi sadodito’ham |

Nirdīpa-dīpa-rahito hi sadodito’haṃ jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham || III:3 ||

"With fuel and without fuel, I am always burning; with smoke and without smoke, I am always glowing; with flame and without flame, I am always shining; I am immortality in knowledge (the knowledge of immortality), I am equality in essence (samarasa), I am like the sky."

Durbodha bodha-gahano na bhavāmi tāta durlakṣya lakṣya-gahano na bhavāmi tāta |

Āsanna-rūpa-gahano na bhavāmi tāta jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham || III:8 ||

"I am neither too mysterious nor too difficult to understand; neither too mysterious nor too difficult to contemplate; I am not mysterious, for I live so near; I am immortality in knowledge, I am equality in essence, I am like the sky."

Niṣpāpa-pāpa-dahano hi hutāśano’haṃ Nirdharma-dharma-dahano hi hutāśano’ham |

Nirbandha-bandha-dahano hi hutāśano’haṃ jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham || III:10 ||

"I am fire that burns religion and irreligion, I am fire that burns merit and sin, I am fire that burns bondage and privilege; I am immortality in knowledge, I am equality in essence, I am like the sky."

Niṣkarma-karma paramaṃ satataṃ karomi nissaṅga-saṅga-rahitaṃ paramaṃ vinodam |

Nirdeha-deha-rahitaṃ satataṃ vinodaṃ jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham || III:26 ||

"I always work as though the greatest work is no work, I always honour my body as though it exists and does not exist; my greatest sport is to renounce my renouncement; I am knowledge of immortality, I am essence of equanimity, I am like the sky."

Nirjīva-jīva-rahitaṃ satataṃ vibhāti nirbīja-bīja-rahitaṃ satataṃ vibhāti |

Nirvāṇa-bandha-rahitaṃ satataṃ vibhāti jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham|| III:31 ||

"Constantly shining free from life and death, constantly shining free from seed and seedlessness, constantly shining free from bondage or liberation, I am the knowledge of immortality, I am the essence of equanimity (samarasa), I am the highest sky."

Dhyātā n ate hi hṛdaye na ca te samādhir dhyānaṃ na te hi hṛdaye na bahiḥ pradeśaḥ |

Dhyeyaṃ na ceti hṛdaye na hi vastu-kālo jñānāmṛtaṃ samarasaṃ gaganopamo’ham|| III:41 ||

"Within you there is no one to meditate, no Samādhi yet to be attained. There is no inner meditation, no outer meditation; no object of meditation, no joy of meditation. I am knowledge of immortality, I am essence of equanimity. I am like the sky."

Muñca muñca hi saṃsāraṃ tyāgaṃ muñca hi sarvathā |

Tyāgātyāga-viṣaṃ śuddham amṛtaṃ sahajaṃ dhruvam || III:46 ||

"Give up, give up worldly illusion. Give up renunciation altogether. Cleanse the poison of both renunciation and indulgence and the nectar/immortality of spontaneity remains."

In his Twilight Yoga treatise, Mahendranath says that Samarasa is one of the four key words of the Nāth way of life. The others are Sama or balance, which we have already discussed, Sahaja or spontaneity, and Svecchācāra or doing one’s own true will.

Sama

सम – Sama

Yogathaḥ Kuru Karmāṇi Saṅgaṃ Tyaktvā Dhanaṃjaya |

Siddhyasiddhyoḥ Samo Bhūtvā Samatvaṃ Yoga Ucyate || II:48

“Fixed in Yoga, perform your actions having abandoned attachment and being indifferent to either success or failure. It is said that evenness of mind is Yoga.”

Generally, if you ask someone who knows a thing or two what Yoga is, they will usually refer to Patañjali and say, “Yoga is the stopping of the fluctuations of the mind.” This is a very good definition and there are good reasons why it is the standard. However, there are other possible classical definitions to which we can also refer. Definitions of Yoga as “union” of microcosm and macrocosm abound and can be another excellent way to frame the process or state. The Bhagavad Gītā has a few of its own definitions. One is the line quoted above, that Yoga is “samatvam” the quality of being “sama.” The word “sama” comes from the same root as our English word “same” and so we could define this to indicate that Yoga means “sameness” or “evenness” in a particular sense. The word can be more distinctly defined as “balance.”

Sama” is a word that also makes a notable appearance in Āyurveda, particularly in Suśruta’s definition of Health:

Sama Doṣāḥ Samāgniśca Samadhātu Mala Kriyāḥ |

“Balanced physiological processes (doshas), balanced digestion (agni – fire), balanced tissues (dhatus), balanced action of elimination (mala kriya).”

Here the word is repeated enough to indicate that Suśruta regards balance as the key to health of the individual.

Proper balance is important for health and probably useful in any context, but in the above verse from the Gītā, Lord Kṛṣṇa specifies that the balance of Yoga is an attitude of sameness towards the successes and failures of one’s own actions. Can we do what is right without a need for external validation? Can we take a success or even a compliment without letting it inflate our ego? Can we learn from a failure or even an insult with deflating into defensiveness? Are we afraid to act because we are too worried that we might fail? Can we begin to see clearly without our perceptions being muddled by our attachments and aversions?

The Yogi aims to retain balance in all things, not merely to be thrown about by the varying circumstances that are encountered. The guidance for our actions should be our internal sense of what is truly right at that moment, rather than merely what is popular, easy, or will give us what we want. So, practicing balance and equipoise is essential.

We even see this in the physical practice of Yogāsana, where balance in a physical sense is required in almost any posture. We practice balance directly when we stand on one leg in Vṛkṣāsana, or tree pose, and we can even see balance in the simple but poised posture of someone sitting tall in their meditation seat.

Mahendranath in the first of his Twilight Yoga trilogy wrote that Sama is one of the key words that “express the essence” the Nath Yogi’s approach to life. The other three are Samarasa – Equanimity, Sahaja – Naturalness, and Svecchacara – the Path of one’s True Will.