A Yantra is nothing but a map for meditation. The map can be used externally to build temples and internally to practice Yoga. A Yantra represents something called a Mandala.
Here is a raw skeleton of a simple Mandala:
If you want to construct a room only for meditation (certain Tantric meditations that I will discuss shortly), you can construct a beautiful room with this map. The circle at the center is a place for an idol or a statue. This statue itself should be designed in a way so that each aspect of the statue represents a deep meaning. This central idol is surrounded by three small idols around it. The idea behind such a place is to create an emotional association with meditation by decorating this room, playing melodious songs, by making it a practice to take bath before entering the room etc. When you meditate in this place every day, just looking at the map or mandala can trigger a meditative feeling in you or make you ready to meditate. It can capture your attention in a minute and change your thought flow to something that is advantageous to meditation. This works based on something called ‘classical conditioning’.
If you want another example for classical conditioning, then do this: think about the days when you fall in love for the first time, wear the same kind of perfume that you were wearing in those days and listen to the song that you heard often those days. It will remind you of those beautiful days. This can be used to your own advantage. This is the science behind Yantras and temples. It is based on psychology, not based on physics or chemistry.
There is also a kind of meditation that you would do with these yantras and the temples modeled using Yantras. Let me first give you a model of another simple Yantra here:
It has four surrounding deities instead of 3. This was actually the very common form of design when people started to use these things in the very beginning. Because these four surrounding deities represent four directions. Almost all religious groups in ancient India including a lot of folk religious practices had deities for directions. These deities were simply absorbed into Tantric practices as devices. This also helped those religious practitioners to convert their superstitious religious sentiments to a psychological device.
Here is an example of Vajrapani mandala in Vajrayana Buddhism following the same model:
First, I will explain how you meditate based on this Yantra. You have to visualize yourself as the central deity and visualize the four deities of four directions as the extensions of yourself. This is the basis of Vajrayana and Tantric meditations. With more practice, you can visualize the mandala quite accurately.
You can make it more effective by constructing a temple using this mandala. When you fill the temple with unique sense perceptions like lamps, smell of camphor and flowers, chants etc and keep the place free from other distractions, then doing tantric meditations in such a place will gradually associate all these sense perceptions with meditation itself. So, an exposure to even one of this sense perception will be helpful to a great extent by changing the course of your thought stream and making it inclined towards meditation.
The energy you feel when you enter such a place comes from your own body and not from the mandala. Because a rush of emotions certainly affects your body as much it affects your mind. (When a teacher enters a noisy classroom on the day when you forgot to do your homework, does the energy of sudden fear you feel come from the teacher or happen in your own body?).
During the Vedic period, there were no temples or idols. Temples emerged as the result of people who started practicing these meditations in the late 1st millennium BC, probably a couple of centuries after the period of Buddha. Almost all Shiva temples are built with Shaiva Agamas and all Vishnu temples are built with Pancharatra or Vaikhanasa agamas, which are Tantric agamas that deal with these things in detail. (Sri Ramanuja played a major role in promoting Pancharatra. He replaced Vaikhanasa with Pancharatra in Sri Rangam temple and most of the other temples too. Tirupati temple is an example of the temple which follows Vaikhanasa agamas).
The beauty of such mandalas is that, the people who created it made sure that each aspect of it has a deep spiritual meaning. So, this accomplishes another purpose as well, by acting as mnemonic devices. When you understand how it works, you can take advantage of all the benefits it offers.
For example, Pancharatra has a concept of Viyuha in which there are four deities: Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. Here, Vasudeva represents the Purusha or Shiva or the absolute; Sankarshana represents Prakriti or Shakthi; Pradyumna represents the mind (your likes and dislikes) and Aniruddha represents ahamkara (ego). In some tantric texts, nine deities are used instead of four: (1) Vāsudeva, (2) Saṅkarṣaṇa, (3) Pradyumna, (4) Aniruddha, (5) Nārāyaṇa, (6) Nṛsiṁha, (7) Hayagrīva, (8) Mahāvarāha, and (9) Brahmā.
But just buying a Yantra and keeping it in the home will do nothing. You need to understand what each aspect of Yantra represents and use it for meditation after completely understanding the design, the purpose and the pointers that the Yantra represents. Because all these are psychological.
But there is another purpose for Yantras which is the most important one. After some point, you should start seeing your own body and mind representing a Yantra. You understand yourself as a living temple and locate each deity at a particular place in your body.
Let us take the above image as an example. This is a Shatkona, my favorite one. The symbol has two triangles.
- The regular triangle represents the absolute and each side of it represents Sat, Chit, and Ananda which means truth, consciousness, and bliss.
- The inverted triangle represents Prakriti and her three states or qualities: Sattva (balance), Rajas (activity), Tamas (inertia or lethargy).
The union of these two triangles represents the union of Purusha and Prakriti, which is actually the essence of non-duality. So, this star is a perfect symbol of spiritual enlightenment itself.
If I have to use this mandala for a temple, then I would need 7 deities, one for the central deity and 6 for the surrounding ones. If I were to internalize these 7 deities then I would need 7 locations in the body. When you are in a cross-legged sitting position, how would you divide your whole body starting from your butt to your head into 7?
This is how you can do it. There is no other way! This is the truth about chakras.
Do you know that initially there were only 4 Chakras and not 7? I will tell you why.
Before the common era and during the late first millennium BC, there was no concept of chakras. But people did have a concept about Nadis. They thought that there is a Sushumna Nadi in the center. People believed that when a person dies, his spirit exits through one of the nine holes of the body. They also believed that if the spirit goes upwards through Shushumna Nadi and exits the body by breaking the top of the head, he will go to heaven. That sounded reasonable to them because if the heaven is somewhere above, then spirit should move upwards. Many texts talk about voluntarily moving the soul or spirit through Shushumna Nadi at the time of the death to make sure that the person reaches the heaven. They called this practice Utkranti. Utkranti was also used to mean traveling from one body to another. It is this Utkranti which is called as Mahasamadhi in modern days.
The concept of chakras actually emerged much later. Chakras are just an attempt to internalize the locations and deities of a mandala or a yantra. It developed just a 1000 or 1200 years before, between 8th century AD to 10th century AD.
- Hevajra Tantra, one of the Buddhist tantric texts during the period of 8th century AD talks about just 4 chakras. The reason they chose four is quite obvious. It is because most of the early Tantric mandalas were based on four directions and assigning 4 deities to each direction. In Buddhist tantras, the following four deities called ‘four heavenly kings’ were used in meditations. The concept is same as the four forms used in Pancharatra. So, during 8th century AD, they internalized these four deities as four chakras in the body.
2. Kaulajnananirnaya which contains the core teachings of Matsyendranath describes a system of 11 chakras. This text is also from the same time period. Please note that Matsyendranath is one of the yogis who is quoted by Sadhguru often. But Sadhguru himself doesn’t know that Matsyendranath talked about 11 chakras and not 7.
3. Abhinavagupta, a great mystic of Kashmir Shaivism had adopted a five chakra model.
4. Sat Chakra Nirupana, another Tantric text talks about a six chakra model.
This is how slowly the system evolved into the current system of seven chakras. They are conceptual and were only meant for visualizations. But it is this concept of Chakras which has become a huge business in the world today.
Here is a picture of Kali Yantra:
First of all, What do these 36 corners represent?
During 8th – 6th century BC, people were interested in going inward to find a way out of suffering. When they explored and enumerated the contents of the consciousness, each sect or group of monks came with different numbers as indivisible entities of one’s conscious field… Buddha came with five and called it five aggregates. Vedanta also came up with five and called it five koshas. Samkhya came with 24 units or tattvas by including sense perceptions, sense organs, organs of actions (hands, legs, speech, excretion, reproduction) and five elements. This way of enumerating the contents of consciousness and coming up with these basic units continued for about 1500 years. Kashmir Shaivism, which is the youngest of all ( which has influenced Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev a lot ) came with 36 basic units. They are called as 36 tattvas. The 36 corners of this yantra represent 36 tattvas.
Each unit was like an atom of the internal world. Vaisheshika, a school of thought in India is called as atomism because it enumerated the contents of consciousness this way and divided them to inseparable things called ‘anu’. But this has been greatly misunderstood by people. There are people who think that these anus/atoms are the actual atoms that we study in Physics.. No, not at all!
Let me explain how this enumeration works. Let us say you look at a tree. You can explore the tree and enumerate its units by dividing the tree into its parts, narrowing down to its molecules, atoms, electrons and quantum particles.
But this is not what we do in spiritual practice. In spiritual path, this is how people see it:
1)When you look at a tree, there is a perception of a form. But where does this perception happen? It happens within the field of consciousness. So, a visual sense perception is actually one of the 36 units.
2)This visual perception is accomplished through eyes, hence eye as a sense organ is also one of the 36 units.
3)Is what is perceived a solid, liquid, gas, the heat which reacts with these three or the empty space in which it occurs? It is a perception of a solid structure. And this solid nature is made as one of the 36 units too, making it as one of the Panchabhutas.
4)Now, what kind of feeling does this perception create in the consciousness? It may create like, dislike or a neutral feeling. This is called manas and it is also one of the 36 units.
5)Does this perception trigger a memory? Oh yes… So memory or Chitta is also one of the 36.
6) What did I use to discriminate all these things? I used my intellect. So intellect or Buddhi is also one of the units.
7) Who is doing all this? It is just happening but it gives you an illusion that ‘you’ as a personal entity separate from the existence is doing it. This is ego or Ahankara is also one of the 36.
This way, people enumerated the contents of consciousness which was helpful for them to discriminate between the awareness and the contents of awareness.
So, this enumeration has got nothing to do with physics or chemistry as many people tend to believe. It is a process of deep investigation of the contents of the field of your conscious subjective experience itself.
The central Bindhu in the Kali Yantra or the central Linga in the Linga Bhairavi yantra represents the Atman, witness or your true nature. The 5 inverted triangle around the Bindu represents the Vedantic way of enumeration which is 5 koshas. They represent your body, breath, your mind, intellect and experience/bliss.
The eight lotuses represent Prakriti or nature and symbolize another way of enumeration. The eight things are solid, liquid, gas, heat, space, activity, inertia and balance. This is a bit outward focused and was probably added to symbolize the nature as we observe it through our five senses. A meditation using this Yantra will require a very complicated visualization.
I can go on and on and explain why Yantras have played a very important role in the spiritual history and how useful it is in meditation. Because using a Yantra has multiple purposes:
1)Taking advantage of classical conditioning and easily get into a meditative state.
2) Mnemonics to remember certain core pointers.
3) A map to construct temples.
4) Helps in the ‘doing’ oriented meditation like Shamatha, Ashtanga yoga etc because of the requirement of complex visualizations.
5)Prepares the ground for ‘non-doing’ oriented meditation: self-inquiry/mindfulness. This is the most important part. Everything that is done in a spiritual path is done to prepare oneself to the direct approach towards spiritual liberation.
When a seeker asked Ramana Maharshi about Shri Yantra, he replied very beautifully with no mumbo jumbo or nonsense:
19th April 1937
A respectable and orthodox gentleman asked about Sri Chakra.
Ramana Maharishi: It has a deep significance. There are 43 corners with sacred
syllables in them. Its worship is a method for concentration of
mind. The mind is wont to move externally. It must be checked
and turned within. Its habit is to dwell on names and forms,
for all external objects possess names and forms. Such names
and forms are made symbolic mental conceptions in order to
divert the mind from external objects and make it dwell within
itself. The idols, mantras, yantras, are all meant to give food to
the mind in its introvert state, so that It may later become capable
of being concentrated, after which the superb state is reached
I recently wrote a detailed post on my blog by making use of all the concepts used in Tantric meditations. You can read it here: A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning
It is about a 3-level meditation that also includes a Yantra, but a visually appealing one:
4 thoughts on “The Truth About Yantras, Chakras, Temples, Tantra and Agamas”
Ramana maharshi , osho dont deny existence of chakras but yo do. I think even if you are self realized you donot know the mechanics of life and others. You are just making an asssumption that everything is metaphorical.
Enjoyed your write-up. Very informative. I do have a question about deity specific Rangoli vs deity specific yantras. For example there is a yantra for Sarawati Devi and also a Rangoli. What is the difference? Which should be used for puja? Ty.