Are mandalas and yantras part of the vedic tradition or are they exclusively from tantra?
The science of tantra is older than the Vedas. It has always been with man. Even primitive man had concepts. In a society where people were totally primitive someone was able to read someone else’s thoughts, or someone had certain psychic experiences, became clairvoyant, telepathic, or someone was able to influence another’s mind, or completely transformed their personality for a period of time and became a different person altogether.
From time to time these things happened as a result of natural processes. It can happen to you at any time, and it can happen to me, because our brain can undergo a total change and suddenly we can behave either like a rakshasa, demon, or a deva, a divine being. One can immediately give manifestation to intuition due to certain changes that may take place in the brain through natural evolution, and that has always happened, even before the time of the Vedas.
However, the people who explained it did so according to their own limitations. They said, ‘Oh, this man has been possessed by a bhoota, preta or brahma rakshasa, a ghost or spirit’, or ‘Somebody has done something to him’. What does modern science say today about these things? Scientists say it is psychic or abnormal behaviour. During the period of the Vedas, the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda, investigations went on: some said it was spiritual development.
In tantra, which was developed as a separate science, three things were important: mantra, yantra and mandala. Mantras served the purpose of awakening the dormant shakti called kundalini. They were also used to awaken the chakras. Yantra, as far as I can understand, need not be intellectually analyzed because the impact of yantra on the inner mind, you may call it the unconscious, is spontaneous. It is not at all an intellectual process. The unconscious mind can react immediately to a particular yantra. Yantras are numerous. We know mostly Tara Yantra, Bagalamukhi Yantra, Rama Yantra, Gayatri Yantra and Sri Yantra.
The gods and goddesses like Rama, Krishna, Durga, Devi are mandalas. They are pictorial concepts. I don’t mean to say that they did not exist, but was Shiva really like that? Could there have been such a man? Did he really exist in some period of history somewhere in the Kailash mountains in Tibet, was married once or even twice? Rama was a historical figure and so was Krishna, but does Vishnu really exist in that form? Do Sheshnaga or Ananta exist in that form? Or is that form simply a symbol of a great process taking place within you?
These are some of the questions I don’t really like to answer. I have my own views on them. I feel that the concept of Trimurti: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the concept of Shakti: Durga, Lakshmi and Kali, and many others, are very important for us to understand. They relate to the great realities, not only within us but in the macrocosms. These are called mandalas and they help us, not only to improve concentration but also to awaken.
Take this physical body. It is a combination of bones, flesh, marrow, blood, muscles etc. Is this the totality of our existence or do we exist beyond the body also? We do not know because we have no experience of it. At night when we dream we begin to believe, ‘Yes, I can exist beyond the body too’. Many times in dreams we think, act and move, but we do not really ask, ‘What is this dream indicating?’ We must have a clear view about this: whether this existence is final and the only existence, or whether we exist beyond this.
Our minds have evolved to the extent where we are only aware of our physical existence. If you improve your mind and develop your consciousness, and if it changes a little bit, maybe you will become aware of something else. You may call it atma, purusha, or something else. In that case you may even say like the great mahatmas, ‘This body is nothing; only the existence of the atma is real’.
So first of all we have to understand that the existence we realize today is just one phase of existence. There are other areas of existence of which we are not aware. We become aware of that phase of existence only if we change our consciousness, our chetana – and these mandalas represent the ways to go to these areas or stages of our existence.
2 February 1982, Trichy, Tamil Nadu