The etymology of the word tantra is ‘expansion of mind and liberation of energy’. For this, tantra utilizes three bases for meditation. One base is mantra, the second is yantra and third is mandala. These three bases are used, not to put the mind into concentration, but to expose the mind, to purge the samskaras, to see the total mind – the mind at the top, the mind at the bottom, the mind which is good or bad, and the latent impressions, the infinity of archetypes, which usually remain suppressed and subdued, in most cases, for the whole of our lives.
Psychologists have been telling us that the mind is like an iceberg, a part of which you can see, and the rest of which you cannot. This is very true. You know quite a few feelings; you know quite a few fears, etc., but you don’t know the rest of the mind. Feelings, emotions, passions, love, hatred, memory are not the total content of the mind. They are just a fraction of the total content. Therefore, we have to come to know our samskaras, and these samskaras have to be objectified, they should not be left subdued and suppressed.
Mantra is the mildest of the bases of tantra meditation. Mantra is not a holy name or a divine sound. Literally, the word mantra means ‘by contemplating upon which, the mind is freed from obsessions’. The mantra must be repeated, and while you are repeating the mantra, you face more and more distractions and oscillations of mind, and hosts of thoughts can be seen. You just witness them. From this, you can understand that mantra is a means to purify one realm of consciousness.
Yantras are geometrical diagrams which represent different forms of energy in the universe. Yantras influence the mind, which absorbs them and then expresses itself – a very powerful means of exploding the deeper contents of the mind.
Mandalas are three-dimensional forms. They are the idols, images, objects and statues on which people concentrate. Mandalas have nothing to do with worshipping God. Actually, when you expose your mind on the basis of these mandalas, your consciousness is objectified. This is a very important point.
Many times people say to me, “I’m having a lot of experiences. When I sit in meditation, I see flowers, forests, oceans, rivers and the moon.” I say, “Okay,” because it doesn’t mean anything. It only means that your consciousness is in a process of transformation.
As the transformation in consciousness is going on, the experiences of the mind become different from objective experiences. You can see a flower in a garden – that is an objective experience. But when you can visualize that flower in your mind (I’m using the word ‘visualize’ not just ‘think’) almost as clearly as it is there in your garden, that is the transformation of the mind that has happened.
Many people can visualize and many cannot. This capacity for visualization becomes more and more intense. Eventually, it develops to the extent that your consciousness assumes the shape of the object. This is then an independent status of your mind.
When, through mantra, yantra or mandala, the mind is completely cleansed of the dross, of avidya, and of its limitations, then consciousness becomes dynamic, and this dynamic consciousness can project itself on any object. Here you must remember that when I am talking about the mind and consciousness, I do not mean them as psychological stuff. I mean mind and consciousness as an aspect of energy, shakti.
Matter and energy are two forms of each other, in the same way that energy is matter and matter is energy, but they are different in their manifestations. Mind is also energy, and it has a separate existence from this body and brain. The mind is a separate reality. It can be objectified, it can be superimposed, and it can be seen in any form. This is known as independent reality.
In India, this happening is known as darshan, which means, ‘to see’. Ordinarily, I am able to see you, but this process of seeing is objective perception, for which the mind has to depend on the eyes, and the previous knowledge that you are a man, not an animal. The mind has to depend on certain resources and evidences to see; it cannot perceive you independently. However, it is possible to develop it so that I can see you, or you can see me in flesh and blood, at any place, regardless of geographical distance. That is darshan.
In tantra we are definitely trying to materialize one important aspect of consciousness – shakti, also known as Devi. This consciousness is in a dormant, potential state in everybody. That is why they say in tantra that the kundalini is sleeping in mooladhara chakra. However, when due to tantric meditation, the kundalini wakes up, new doors of perception are opened. Then you can see your ishta devata, or your own deity, or your own guru, in flesh and blood. That is the highest realization and manifestation of shakti, and that is the aim of tantric meditation.
When you want to practice meditation on mandala, you have to choose a definite image with three dimensions and keep that image in front of you as much as possible. Whether it is the image of a shivalingam, of Devi, or of Mother Mary, the image should not be just a symbol for you. It should be a reality. So much so, that you do not think in your mind that this image represents that. The image must be the reality, and you must identify yourself with that image, not only during meditation, but at other times as well.
The great lady saint, Mirabai, when she was in her teens, was given a small statue of Krishna. She kept that statue with her throughout her life, and maintained that he was her husband. She developed a great spiritual light within herself through this. She had such great rapport with the murti, or the statue of Krishna, that a number of times she was saved from death. It is said that at the time of her death she entered into the sanctum sanctorum of the main temple in Mathura and dissolved herself into the idol of Krishna.
What I’m talking about is that, when you have an image for yourself, you have to identify with it totally. If you cannot, then you are merely doing a ritualistic worship. For you, it should not be just a stone statue, nor can it be just a symbol, or a representation. Let us say you have a statue of Mother Mary. You then have to feel, “This is Mother Mary.” You can’t say that she existed 1,900 years ago and this is her statue. No, this symbol is the reality. That should be the depth of your vision and of your identity with it. That is the scientific approach to mandala for spiritual awareness.
—East-West Cultural Centre, Los Angeles, USA, 1982, published in Teachings of Swami Satyananda Vol.III