Wonder what squares, circles, and dots have to do with religion? Here is how yantras can help you to advance on the spiritual path.
Across the world, humans have used geometry to express and evoke the most subtle spiritual experiences, as seen by the intricate patterns found in Iranian mosques, the elegance of the Lotus temples of the Baha'i faith and the symmetry of Mayan pyramids. However, few people know that geometric designs can be used as a means to self-realisation.
Ancient Hindu scriptures see the creation of the universe as the division of the one formless being into a pair of opposites—Shiva (also Purusha, the static or male principle) and Shakti (also Prakriti, the active or female principle). So, from the one emerged the many. An individual, irrespective of gender, is also a microcosm of the entire universe with both the Shiva and Shakti principles forming his individuality.
On the other hand, every individual is encouraged to move from duality to a state of oneness with the Supreme; in other words, unite the Shiva and Shakti aspects of his personality. Aiding this inward movement are tools known as yantras.
What is a Yantra?
A yantra, at the basic level, is a geometric design with interlocking pattern of triangles, lotuses, squares, and dots that acts as a tool for meditation and ritual. At another level, the yantra represents an aspect of divinity or higher state of consciousness. It is said that yantras act as conduits of cosmic energy.
The concept of yantras is widely prevalent in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, and more specifically, in esoteric tantric rituals. The word "yantra" means "instrument" in Sanskrit. In Tibet, elaborate yantras with complex pictorials are called mandalas.
Yantras can be traced on the ground or can be made of paper, metal, glass, stone and other materials. Most yantras are two-dimensional though three-dimensional yantras are also found.
Elements of Yantras
The most important aspects of yantras are the elements and their meaning. The seeker meditates on the central point or the dot, which is surrounded by the other elements such as triangles, circles, and squares.
Dot: The dot or the bindu has great significance in Hinduism. Generally placed at the centre of the yantra, the bindu is the focal point of concentration, and must be as small as possible. In Hindu philosophy, the bindu also represents the one point from where the entire universe originated.
Triangle: Upward-pointing equilateral triangles can variously represent the static principle or Purusha, linga (the male phallic symbol), male energy, or water. A downward-pointing equilateral triangle, on the other hand, represents the active principle or Prakriti, yoni (the female reproductive organ or womb), female energy, or fire.
Star: The Star of David, formed by the combination of two triangles, is common in yantras. It represents the union of Shiva and Shakti.
Square: The square is usually the outer limit of the yantra, and represents the earth element.
Circle: Representing the air element, the circle also refers to the various solar plexi within the body and movement of energy.
Lotus: A lotus has great metaphysical and philosophical significance in Hinduism. Just as the lotus grows in a muddy pond, yet remains unaffected by it, so should the individual live in the ocean of existence without being soiled by it.
The Most Powerful Yantra
Consisting of five downward triangles that represent Shakti and four upward triangles that represent Shiva, the Shri Yantra (or Sri Chakra) is regarded as the mother of all yantras. It functions like a map of the process of self-realisation with each aspect of this yantra representing a stage of enlightenment that each individual must attain to help unite the Shiva and Shakti aspects of his individuality.
Sincere meditation on the Shri Yantra is said to bring the individual to the original fountainhead of all existence—the state of non-duality—when individuality ceases to exist, which is represented by the bindu at the centre.
How are They Used?
Generally, yantras go hand in hand with other practices such as meditation, mantras, and even drawing and painting.
Moreover, yantras are not just restricted to rituals and meditation. In fact, many ancient Hindu temples are designed in the form of a yantra. The famous Jagannath temple in Puri, Orissa is believed to have been created in the form of a yantra.
- Meditation: Each part of the yantra corresponds to a specific deity or image that must be visualised. The aspirant focusses on the centre of the design. Over time, the mind's incessant chatter ceases, leading to one-pointedness.
- Mantras: If mantras can be compared to the mind, yantras correspond to the visible body. Mantras are subtle vibrations of cosmic energy while yantras are the visual representation of it. Specific mantras are used for each yantra.
- Drawing and painting: Contrary to what most people think, meditation does not just mean sitting cross-legged in a room. Even a simple activity such as drawing can be a powerful experience if done with sufficient concentration, accuracy, and discipline. Specific rules and regulations need to be followed while painting a yantra.
What Do I Need to Know About Them?
Before you use a yantra, keep the following points in mind:
- Drawing and painting a yantra is not calligraphy, hobby, or art.
- Yantras are not created out of one's imagination. The yantra design and the colours used have specific meaning, and cannot be changed as per one's whims.
- Certain yantras are drawn and installed only on specific days at an auspicious time.
- The material used to create the yantra depends on the purpose and the particular aspect of divinity to be propitiated.
What do you think about the practice of yantras? Have you ever used one? Do you know anybody who has benefited from yantras? To share your experiences, views and tips with us, click here.