"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mandalas And Yantras (An Overview)

Thangka painting of Vajradhatu Mandala
In mandalas and yantras, which reach their most intricate and evocative form in the iconography of India and Tibet, the symbolism of geometrical shapes is used to maximum effect. Not only are these diagrams sacred works of art, they also act as a focus for deep meditation. Each of these complex forms is essentially a depiction of the universe and of the forces and gods that drive it. By meditating on the symbol, and moving mentally toward its centre, the seeker is made aware of deep levels of meaning.

The shapes that appear most frequently in mandalas and yantras are circles, squares and triangles. Combinations of these forms can produce extraordinary visual effects, conveying the idea that nothing exists except as an encounter between various fields of energy, just as a rainbow is created only when sunlight, water and the visual activity of the observer come together. Through meditation on the yantra, the mind is gradually able to "unscramble" the sets of relationships which give an illusory sense of permanence to the out-side world. 

There are no rigid differences between mandalas and yantras, but the former usually contain lettering or the human form (in the shape of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and attendant deities), while the latter are primarily geometrical, with the human form, if it appears at all, taking on a more peripheral function. Yantras provide a more advanced focus for meditation because they represent the realities that lie beyond the world of physical forms. Psychologists have noted that mandala-like shapes are drawn spontaneously in psychotherapy by people with no grounding in Eastern mysticism: such drawings are thought to represent an attempt by the conscious self to recognize and integrate unconscious knowledge.

Om Mani Padme Hum ("Hail To The Jewel In The Lotus")

The ovoid shapes in the outer circle represent the petals of a lotus: around them are the Tibetan symbols for the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, In the inner circle is the symbol for enlightenment. Shape and lettering combine to help the meditator focus on the opening of the "inner lotus". to reveal the jewel within the self.

The Sri Yantra

The Sri Yantra is a powerful aid to meditation. Increasing in complexity from the centre outward, the pattern helps the observer to look symbolically back to the moment of creation, both of the universe itself, and of the acts through which the mind ceaselessly brings the outer world into existence.


In this Nepalese mandala, the Bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara,is shown in his eight-armed form, each arm holding a symbol of his concern for humanity. A Bodhisattva is an enlightened being who refuses to enter Nirvana until all other sentient beings are saved. Avalokiteshvara symbolizes the compassionate side of our own nature, which we can awake by meditating on his mandala. His spirit is believed to be reborn in the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet.


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