Much of Tantra is concerned with worship in a ritualistic form, using the three basic tools of mantra, yantra and mandala. This ritual is not based on superstition or blind faith but has been scientifically, systematically and practically designed to direct the whole process of living, towards transcendence. All religions originally used these methods, but now the aim of ritualistic worship has been generally lost sight of and has degenerated into the performance of mere automatic and meaningless actions which are not understood by the practitioner. When this happens no benefit is derived from the ritual.
The modern scientific mind scoffs at rites and rituals as mere superstition because there is no basis for worship in modern scientific thought. However, Tantra utilises systematic ritual with awareness as a means of contacting the things with which science cannot commune, even with its most delicate and complicated instrument. The rites of Tantra do work if performed correctly, and the proof is not to be found in books or theories but in one's own personal experience.
Tantric rites are utilised for involving or tuning in with the different levels of being which are beyond normal perception. They are concerned with worship, set actions, mantras, yantras, mudras end other actions, which make the mind calm, receptive and one-pointed. This is conducive to the experience of meditation which will transform one's understanding and relationship with life, oneself, and other people. Tantra aims at transforming everything in life into a ritual so that the individual performs every action and thought with a feeling of worship and awareness. The action of bathing dressing, sitting for worship, offering various symbolic sacrifices, the union of man and woman, the stages of development from conception, birth, marriage to death, are transformed into worship.
In Tantra one has to be continually aware of every action and thought whether it is a set ceremonial worship or an everyday duty. Each act has to be performed with absolute attention, not mechanically or unconsciously, and this awareness and concentration eventually prepares one for meditation. Tantric worship is not confined to the temple. It is done from the moment one gets out of bed in the morning to the moment one returns to bed at night.
Together with yantra and mandala, mantra is the most important aspect of Tantra - its essence. Almost invariably, these three are used in conjunction with each other to form powerful combinations. The mantra is the vehicle of consciousness, while yantra, mandala or devata is the form of consciousness. The mandala, yantra or devata is the manifested form or configuration of Shakti while the mantra, which is also Shanti, is the link between consciousness and form. This applies to everything in the world around us. The form is the expression; the mantra is the vehicle of expression.
Mantra is the direct link with the 'beyond'. The world we know is materialised and shaped through mantra, through sound at all levels and degrees of subtlety. Mantra originates in the substratum of Shiva, and can be used to retrace the direction of manifestation so that one again merges with consciousness. A mantra is therefore a means to make a 'U-turn' and retrace one's path back to the source.
Man's 'inner being' is constantly in contact with something much greater than the limitations of individuality, but the average person is not aware of this. Mantra brings about a state of 'resonance' between an individual and the depths of his being. They are the tools through which we can harmonise with the inner cosmic forces.
A yantra is a specific form of mandala consisting of geometrical shapes and figures, and often diagrams of deities (especially in Buddhist Tantra). It is a particularly powerful form of mandala and deep concentration upon it can lead to the realisation of its higher nature. The word 'yantra' means 'instrument, 'machine', 'apparatus', or 'implement'. The yantra is indeed an implement (or tool) because it acts as an instrument for tuning in with consciousness, a spiritual machine for inducing states of meditation.
A mandala is a focus for cosmic powers. During tantric worship and practices the mandala becomes the symbolic centre of the universe. It is laid out according to a fixed plan and its construction is a rite in itself. Everything in the manifested world is a mandala in essence. Each and every object is a focal point of consciousness: every thing is a manifestation of Shakti, an expression of the underlying consciousness. Thus, deep concentration on any form can bring about a realisation of this consciousness.
For this reason, bhakti or devotion is an important part of tantric meditation practices as it supercharges the power of concentration, which becomes more piercing when backed up by the emotion of reverence and love.
Each one of us and our every thought forms a mandala. A man and woman in union form a closed unit or circle which can also be a perfect mandala for attaining higher states of consciousness. The guru is a most powerful mandala as he acts as a magnet to draw down cosmic consciousness. He radiates and glows with the light of this great force. It is through the guru that cosmic powers are unleashed and transmitted to the disciple. This is the grace of the guru mandala.