A Traditional Form of Indian Meditative Art
Yantras are visual tools used for spiritual growth; to connect with the divine, in attempt for liberation. Each yantra is a specific symbolic composition of energy patterns of a particular deity. The yantra is not a form that represents the deity, rather, the form is seen as the actual body of the deity. Due to the generic essence of the yantra – being composed of universal, basic archetypal forms and geometrical shapes – it is seen as more powerful than any picture or idol.
The yantras is seen as precious to the devotee, as well as to the deity, for it is a way through which worship and devotion can be practiced (by the devotee) and received (by the deity). The process of making a yantra is powerful and meditative; a process of “moving from concrete reality into abstract truth”.
Origin of Yantra
The word ‘yantra’ is composed of two terms in Sanskrit: Yam and Tra. Yam can literally be translated as ‘root’. This can mean ‘to support’ or to ‘hold’, as the roots of a tree hold the earth together, or as a vessel or container that keeps and maintains the essence of an object, thought or concept. Tra comes from the Sanskrit term Tantra, which means ‘liberation from bondage’, or ‘that which represents the essence of liberation’ (unlike the common western misunderstanding that the term Tantra is solely related to sexuality).
The yantra is seen as the accurate symbolic means of expression that is used to withdraw from the outer world, or from a normal state, to an altered and high state of consciousness.
The yantra is composed of distinct, geometrical shapes that affect the right side of the cerebral hemispheres of the brain (the right side of the brain). Linear reasoning and language functions (grammar and vocabulary) are often associated with the left hemisphere of the brain; while the right side is more connected with associative thinking, visuals and artistic abilities. The yantra thus works in a nonverbal, ‘effortless’ way, bringing the practitioner into an introverted and meditative state of mind.
The highest and most potent form of a yantra is considered to be a Bindu – a simple black dot on a white background. The bindu is seen as the base and essence of all yantras. The Sanskrit term bindu can mean ‘the essential sound’. Although a simple bindu is seen as the most powerful of the yantras, it is almost too simple to be used as a single object for prolonged meditation.
The bindu is always the center of the yantra as it holds the source principle of manifestation. Since the bindu is seen a form symbolizing the core, or very essence, everything is created around it; all shapes and forms come out of this source. Meditating on a bindu enables the meditator to withdraw inwards and to be lead to discover our true nature.
Yantras as a Meditative Art
The process of creating a yantra teaches the mind how to concentrate and become single-pointed. The geometrical shapes that compose the yantra work with universal laws that affect the artist as well as any onlooker. When creating a yantra the artist must remain alert and attentive, with a suitable intention. This Meditative Art requires much patience and precision.
A Tantric Practice
Working with yantras is a traditional Tantric meditative art practice. Tantra is a holistic approach to study the universe from the individual’s point of view. This means to study the ‘macro’ from the ‘micro’. Tantra unites different sciences and combines the work with yantras together with specific mantas (sacred sounds). The union of shape with sound is made to activate stimulation to both brain hemispheres.
The Sanskrit term Tantra means a principle, system or doctrine that is made visible to help the process of expansion in order to reach liberation.
Making a Yantra
A yantra is composed of a few basic elementary shapes: a central dot- bindu, a circle, one or two triangles, a basic square that has four T shapes on its outside, one in each of the four directions and a row of lotus petals. These basic shapes are arranged in a defined manner, creating a unique composition that focuses and leads one’s attention towards the center – that is, the center of the yantra as well as to one’s inner center.
Painting and Looking at a Yantra
While working on the yantra, and also afterwards, when using it as an object of meditation, the distance between the artist (or practitioner) and the yantra should be a comfortable reading distance. The classical Tantric practice of ‘gazing’ (looking without blinking) can be used, with the aid of a yantra, for concentration in a meditative mode. It is important to note that in contrast to reading a map, where the upwards direction is north, in a yantra, the upwards direction is east.
There are different yantras that are connected with particular Indian gods or goddesses, such as the elephant headed lord Ganesha, or Visnu the sustainer of the world, or Shakti, the divine goddess and her many different aspects. There are also other different categories of yantras, such as architectural yantras, made for building temples and astrological yantras made for working with the stars.
A Divine Gift
It is believed that all yantras were realized by great spiritual masters for the benefit of humanity and that they were given perfectly and exactly. Yantras can be seen as an art and a science, passed through generations, traditionally and with adequate initiation and guidance.